The Abandoned Room
That I eat lunch in at the school
My eyes are hallow, empty without the life and happiness that they had just yesterday. My host mother saw me yesterday evening when I returned home and merely said, “I see that you’ve cried, your eyes tell that you have felt pain, what happened?” Having cried for an hour straight earlier in the day, only a few tears were left in my tear ducts as I retold my day, I had not been the one who had to endure physical pain itself, but had been a witness to it, a bystander to what I felt was wrong.
With the crack of a stick, I learned that I was powerless. I have been so privileged to be told that “I can do anything that I put my mind to,” “If I can dream it, it can come true,” And any other somewhat sappy but empowering quotation that you can think of that you’ve been told by either your parents, your teachers, or your friends. Yet, even with all of those supportive and motivational statements, it hits you with a “falcon” punch that in some situations there’s nothing you can do, deeming you to be completely stripped from all thoughts of potential super power, causing you to be nothing but a bystander. I know, my elementary, middle, and high school teachers, if reading this are thinking, Didn’t we/I teach you to be an ally, an activist, and not a mere bystander? And the answer is yes, yes you have, you did so well to enforce the idea of power behind words and not hands and that violence is not the answer. That sharing is caring and how the magic word “please” can do so much, the impossible. But in this country that I write from, all of that doesn’t matter, because I’m just an observer for a semester. Even if I wanted to make a huge and drastic change, it’d be almost impossible.
And I know that because of what I experienced yesterday, the reason for my early post is the fact that I cried. I cried for the first time in a long time. Not the pretty tears that I can wipe away with a tissue but the full on waterworks that never seemed to stop when I tried to smile or laugh them away. My heart cried because of the pain it felt from watching the stick that they call a cane hit the backs of children, the desk, or just held in the hand of the teacher. I learned when growing up in America that teachers, while not always but in regards to those I was lucky to have, are caring individuals who want to promote growth and learning for the next generation of students. They are not even allowed to have the thought to lay a finger on a student or they could easily be fired on the spot.
Instead at my internship site, I witnessed the unimaginable. Yes, I was well warned but even so, with the spoken word, it has nothing to do with actually seeing the act of caning a child. I saw it multiple of times throughout the day, when I first walked into the school it was the very first thing I saw during morning assembly. Because the students were late, they got whipped in front of their classmates, on display, to show obedience. It wasn’t even 8:30am yet.
I learned by observation that the school, instead of really allowing the students in the kindergarten class to learn, the hours that pasted throughout the day were used to inject and enforce fear into their minds and body. It caught me off guard with every moment I saw the cane being used or heard the stick hit the desk. I cringed and pasted on a smile on my face, telling myself to not break down and cry or shout and scream at the teachers to emotionally show them that it isn’t right to scare the children who they’re supposed to be teaching right from wrong, wrong being physical violence.
I kept myself sane during the day by taking the time during my lunch break to write. I used the chance to get my feelings and emotions out on paper with the power of my words and pen. It wasn’t until I saw a friendly face, when I made it back to campus, when my mind allowed my body to do what it wanted to do and show the pain and fear I felt for every student who attended not just that school but any school that allows caning to be a form of punishment. I sobbed, and allowed myself to completely feel everything that I had already written down, staining the blank piece of paper.
And even through the tears, I can say that I can understand and justify why the teachers cane and threaten the children that they’ll “kill” or “cane” them if the children don’t listen and do as they’re told. The fear has somehow already been instilled into them that it has become a norm. Even when I tried getting the children to listen, they wouldn’t, and a child even told me to take the cane and hit the ones making a fuss. The children believe in physical pain and violence as a form of correcting other’s behavior. They expect it and for some reason do not know or understand that there are other methods of punishment for not following the rules. The only way that the teacher has control and authority is with the object of a cane, like the “speaking stick” the one holding the stick is the only one who can speak. Another moment that scared me was when a child picked up the stick as soon as the teacher left the classroom and began to smack the desk loudly and quickly. Scaring me in the process because when I went towards him to take the stick from him, he waved it faster, almost hitting me in the process, so I backed away. No matter what words, what tone I used, I was powerless because he held the stick and therefore had the control and power that enforced fear in others.
And now, while unfortunate as it is, I can only hope that the next 12 days that I have to go to the school for my internship hours go by quickly and that I can learn to tolerate the way that the education system works in some schools. Even as I post this culture shock experience, I know that I am drained; I have witnessed something that I would never ever have tolerated, but this is what it means to experience life in another country. I am grateful for the experience because I am aware now, more than ever of what I believe in when it regards children, a passion in my life. In addition to that I will also gain an insight of how the public evolves with the foundation of what I view as a terrified childhood. I can only hope and cross my fingers tightly that the government does something to change their education system to promote a better and safer environment to improve learning; I definitely believe that it would benefit the country to further develop.
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