Now I have an official looking laminated badge, it follows that I must be competent to teach. I think that is broadly speaking how it works. I’m slightly disappointed not to have got the 007 badge, but then again secret Smiley nabbed that with her undercover missions way back, so perhaps this was the next best available option.
Today, I will be meeting my classes for the first time, and teaching them something hopefully. I have two level 2 groups, each for one and half hours. This means nothing to me as I can’t really gauge what their language level will be. I have a feeling their writing and reading skills may be well ahead of their speaking and listening skills. Level 0 groups here have around 6 months previous experience elsewhere, so my level 2 students should logically be a further year on (equating to two 3 month intensive courses at CWF or equivalent). However, the content of the module guides seems pretty basic, so honestly I have no idea. I am naturally panicking about this, but tell myself my objectives for lesson one are basically these:
- To give a friendly and enthusiastic welcome
- To learn names of the group (ish, it could take a while)
- Introduce myself
- Cover basic ground rules – no eating rice in the classroom, and no dragging me out of the toilet by force if I’m in there crying and refusing to come out – that sort of thing.
I met with a fellow volunteer yesterday to discuss options. It was reassuring that we are both equally at sea. But it was less than reassuring that we were both equally at sea. The phrase blind leading the blind springs to mind. However, we laughed a lot, and we do have ideas, we just have no idea if we can actually use them for our group. Our morning rendezvous was at 8.00, after a few hours our conversation became circular, so we headed out for breakfast. I’d espied a place near the Russian Market that had a mixed western/ Khmer menu. To be honest, it wasn’t great. I’m pretty sure my vegetarian omelette wasn’t. I think it even had chicken in it, which I didn’t know was even a thing that traditionally went in omelettes. Feels wrong somehow, consuming mother and child together. Then we went our separate ways, before rendezvousing at the school which was supposed to be opening at 1.00. It wasn’t. A number of us gathered hopefully outside, ringing various numbers and peering inside to no avail. We were obviously all keen to get some preparation under our belt, and see our class lists as well as have some ‘eek’ moments together masquerading as peer support.
We got in eventually, the education manager arriving and knocking up (not like that) the slumbering security/ general assistant who lives in. I don’t know if he knew we’d be interrupting his Sunday. He smiled, that seems to be the default setting for everyone here, and a good one it is too! We cooed over our pigeon holes, which contain sweet little pencil cases with marker pens, our ID cards, a folder with our name on it and our registers. My groups are 7 in one, and 11 in the other, which are nice numbers to work with. Some have groups as small as 4, which might be limiting. One person with a level 0 or 1 somehow has 17 in her group. That I would not relish. I have got off lightly to be honest, though I do admit to wishing I had more advanced groups so I could dive in with discussions and controversial topics and ambitious games. Having said that, it will be good for my professional development to learn new skills with lower level learners, however it may not be good for my soul. I need to get in the swing I think.
There is a library of resources at the school, but honestly they were a bit disappointing. Rather vague. The text books do have teacher guides, but I found them confusing. Seeing other volunteers was both good and stressful. One, who has done a teaching degree seems to have mapped out her whole first week, others of us just stared vaguely into space. Compounding our anxiety was that some stress had been put on using lots of visual aids, pictures, handouts etc as prompts. However, the printer/ photocopier was on the blink, and eventually conked out entirely. It seems printers all over the world can have a flashing red light on them indicating a paper jam and refusing to function when all the evidence is to the contrary despite an almost complete dismantling of said machine. I had used the CWF computer to type up a loose lesson plan, but it wouldn’t print. I saved it onto a memory stick, and eventually an office printer linked to a different computer obliged. I felt guilty because the education manager stayed late to facilitate this, but then again not that guilty. It isn’t unreasonable to need those facilities prior to day one of teaching. One of the volunteers was saying I should use the printer at the volunteers’ house, but I don’t have a key to get in there (they’d all gone out for dinner) and I didn’t want to walk there and back to mine in the dark either. As it happens, their wi-fi and electricity all went out yesterday anyway, so it wouldn’t have worked.
I had planned to go to the gym after lesson planning, but dusk was falling and I am scared in Phnom Penh after dark. Not just the bag snatching, but the traffic. I find it harder to judge the distances of approaching bikes in the dark, and many of them don’t have headlights anyway, plus they can come at you in all directions. I wonder if I will ever get used to that. It’s quite restrictive not being confident enough to go out at night, but I don’t want to push it just yet. On the plus side, I stopped off at another vegetarian restaurant that turns out to be just round the corner from my flat. Vitking on 430. It was rather fancy, tropical plants outside and tables laid out more restaurant style inside. I played it safe with my order, and just had a veggie burger and a mango shake. It was good to be fair, and not over-priced. It would certainly be a reasonable daily option, and I think if I was more adventurous with the menu it would be OK. I’m really lacking veg at the moment and I am mightily sick of eggs. However, whilst I feel frustrated that I haven’t explored more, that is two veggie restaurants within a couple of hundred yards of me. One of which I can get to without having to cross any roads! Yay.
The other one I went to was Pidoa Nature or something. Air conditioned place up some steps. I had fried rice which was fine, but functional eating. It was clean and cheap though, but lacking in character and no English spoken. Also, I wasn’t clever enough to operate the doors or understand how to order, so all a bit mortifyng. Oh, and I didn’t understand the change. They gave me two 10,000 reil notes (equivalent to $5) and I peered at them uncomprehending as I’d not seen them before. The poor waitress was concerned I thought they’d cheated me and managed to explain to me what it was. ‘Aaaaaah!’ I said as the penny dropped, but it is hard work having so few life skills at the moment. I have to brace myself every time I step outside the door. I don’t think Phnom Penh is a city I will come to love, though I am already glad to have experienced it.
Anyway, yesterday evening I came home feeling a bit demoralised, and tired and hot. I was annoyed at not getting to the gym and really lacking in confidence about teaching today. In the end I had an early night, there being nothing on telly beyond Trump now not listening to his own security advisors and also appointing a climate change denier as environmental rep for USA which really wasn’t helping. I slept badly, dreaming that I’d lost my watch, my shoes and teaching clothing I think. Fortunately, on waking today I found that only my watch is no longer functional. Who knew a $3 watch wouldn’t survive being worn whilst swimming in the Mekong! I’ll have to get yet another watch, third one since arriving.
I woke really early, and decided to start as I mean to go on. That is, head to the gym. It was raining when I set off at about 6.30 and noticeably cooler. The first time I’ve been a comfortable temperature in weeks. I noticed that there are two huge marquees set up directly outside our apartments which is grand as potential for spying on wedding celebrations over the next few days. I think one may be a catering tent and the other for the actual ceremony.
Pleasingly, the gym has actually got nearer! It is easier to get there when there is less traffic, and it is literally 10 minutes away. It was pretty empty. I’ve joined Phnom Penh Sports Club which is a lot less nice than the photos make it look. I was going to go to a better gym more in keeping with my marathon running goals, but realised to get there I’d have to cross a 6 lane highway and there’s no way I’d be able to do that twice a day (yes is it that bad). Instead, I’ve gone for the cheap and cheerful option, and to be honest, I’m so lamentably unfit at the moment it will probably do for now. I paid $221 for two of us to join as a ‘family’ me and another volunteer who’ll pay me back later, that’s for 3 months unlimited membership and you get a towel to use whenever you go. I am very taken with my membership card, which is probably the best thing about the gym:
When I went on Saturday to sign up, it was just after noon, and the hottest time of the day. The pool area was heaving. I went straight to the gym section. There are lots of machines but most are broken, sweat or dirt covered and/or all of the preceding. I had to wake up the gym staff member to be shown how to turn on the treadmill. I kept getting minor shocks from it and I wasn’t at all sure if they were static electricity or actual shocks. It didn’t inspire confidence. There is no air-conditioning, but you are high up and the windows are open so there is a bit of a breeze. I tried to put an incline on but that feature didn’t seem to work. I ended up running just 7km in the slowest time ever, and sweated more than I have in my whole life. It was lamentable. I felt like crying afterwards. How have I got so unfit. The treadmill is quite wobbly and uneven, so I don’t even know if the distances and times are correct (though I do like to think I burned 1000+ calories). I am very disheartened. HOwever, I decided that from the ‘glass half-full’ perspective, if I am really this unfit, then even this crappy gym will be a start. All is not yet lost, but it isn’t looking hopeful). Anyway, today I went much earlier, in the gym by 6.30. No one was there, though there was a very noisy game of table tennis going on in the room labelled ‘snooker room’ and it was much cooler. I only ran 5km but at a significantly faster pace. Then I swam 10 lengths and had a shower, and figured that if I do this everyday, surely it will start to have an impact. I still found it really hard in the heat, but it was better than working out later in the day. The logistics worked OK (found the changing rooms) and even found (belatedly) a treadmill with working elevation (4th one I tried). I’ll try to get a photo from the gym itself at some point, but didn’t seem appropriate to take one today. Here are more general ones to give you a feel. You can’t see the decrepitude and dirt though, be thankful for that. Loos and showers are clean though, and have liquid shower soap to use as well.
I felt so much better after this exercise I can’t tell you. It calmed me down a lot. I decide to try and find the volunteers’ house, which I have been to before, but not independently navigated to. Got there, and pleasingly a few people up and about – including my gym ‘family member’ so I was able to give her the receipt that will allow her to go and get her own membership card sorted, and get some cash from her in return. I also took advantage of the volunteer house breakfast $2 a meal if you don’t live in. That was good, as it is tiring having to go out and eat all the time. People were in various stages of angst/ panic about teaching today, lack of printers, computers and wi-fi was not great. One volunteer hadn’t come back to the house after a tinder rendezvous, so hope that’s not ominous. I was debating whether to go to Amatrak and join the crossfit place for 10 sessions (they have a special offer on their pass for Christmas) but got diverted by others. Instead we went to the school to find out how the other teachers with earlier lessons had got on, and also to pay for our visa extensions. My visa expires on 17 December. It costs $77 for a single entry business visa 3 month extension. Pleasingly, they have already sent them off to be processed, so that was a relief. They are on the ball here. Teachers who had already taught had all had good experiences, so I really hope that sets the tone. I hung around for a bit, then opted to come back to my flat as I needed to wash my hair and change and anyway, I think I’ll concentrate better here. It’s good to get ideas from other people, but it can also derail you. I lose confidence in my ideas if seemingly better ones are being banded around. Met an established volunteer who is on his 6th return visit. He seems friendly, a retired engineer from the UK, he comes every Christmas semester. He said he wasn’t at all sure about it initially, but clearly is in his element now. That give me hope, confidence even. We shall see. Funny to think next time I check in here I probably will have finished my first classes. Eek. What a transition we are all making. Our mug shots as ‘Teachers’ are all up on the board now for all to see and marvel at. I asked the experienced volunteer teacher for advice. He said just ‘appear confident. Think swans.’ Good advice actually, I will smile and blag it, and then do it all again tomorrow. Yay!