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February 9th 2013
Published: February 9th 2013
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So i've finished my first week of work! I woke up this morning to the sounds of firecrackers from various neighbors, and when i rode into town, the asphalt was littered in red paper. especially in the "posh" section of town where they sell gemstones, an area defined by cobblestone road, actual parking spaces, and stores that have air conditioning.

this week has been eye opening in a strange way. i think looking back at old entries, i realized that i've just been listing events, but i haven't been analyzing them much. i hesitate to get too ethereal and froo froo about what's going on, because i don't want it to sound false and pretentious. but here is the truth: the people here do so much with so little, and i am in awe.

the woman, in her 20s, who was the previous teacher of the TOEFL class i teach saw me the other day and said affectionately, "take care of my babies, ok?" but as much as i may relate to her feeling of kinship with the students, they are not babies. they became adults before they should have, and at the age of 19 or 20, they are feeling the weight of their country on their shoulders. they want to save burma, even as burma does nothing for them.

yesterday after morning class, one student said, "teacher, can i take you to my old school?" it was a very sweet request, and i imagined that we'd see a place where he used to go to school, old teachers, and fellow students.

"is it far away?" i asked.

"no, no, very close."

"will i be able to find my way back?"

"yes, yes, very easy."

we have different definitions of easy. and close. A 45 minute bike ride later, all around back streets, then directly across a highway (we had to lift the bikes over the median) and down a mile of dirt and gravel roads, pitted from the rainy season, we arrived at his old school. It is a school specifically for orphans and "helpless youth" which seems a terrible name for a school. there was a long concrete building with half walls, basically a concrete bunker, separating every grade from k-9 into small sub-rooms, all in a row. the sounds of many children in one place emanates from the building. In a thatch-roof open air section, a group of young adults were taking a test to get them into a trade school. in another building, the headmaster was having a meeting with 6 students in grade 10 who had been selected as being bright enough to take the GED. They would then be competing with hundreds others for the few scholarship opportunities in international universities. in the back, the headmaster's wife and some other women relax on mattresses on the floor, with a few wooden swings hanging on ropes suspended from the ceiling, which held babies. One young woman was openly and shamelessly breastfeeding.

my student looked around at the grounds proudly. he said, "when i came here, it was only dirt. now we grow plants, bananas. this is my home." i recalled his biography that i had just corrected the day before, describing how his mother died when his sister was born, his brother and one sister when he was 12, and his father, out of desolation, soon after. His other sister is still at this school. I met her while her physics class was on break.

half of the older classes had no teacher. the students were sitting surprisingly quietly, working together. In some classes, one student had taken the role of the teacher, quizzing students from the front of the class. When we entered (there is no door, and the wall is waist-high facing the common area) my student walked confidently to the front of the class. the students stood and, palms pressed together, said, "good afternoon, teacher!" at the age of 20, my student is a volunteer teacher in the afternoons. in fact, all of my students are. They are learning at an advanced level, and they cannot legally work, so they do what they can to strengthen the community: they give back through education. they attend school for free, and they teach for free. some teach weekends, too. I am amazed at the clarity of their focus. if they had a fraction of the resources of an american student, they would be world leaders. i hope they will, anyway.

so when this woman says, "take care of my babies," i can't help but think how mistaken she is. they passed the need of being taken care of long ago, and i admire their spirit.


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