by Anna, Voluntourist, IHF Chiang Rai
Every morning, the beeping of an old minivan, “the school bus”, wakes me up. Not long after the van arrives, a tiny but lively figure would rush out of the dorm door, with leather school shoes in one hand and a backpack in the other, and hop on the van with such skillfulness that you would think she is performing. So here you go — an eleven-year-old’s daily life has begun in Chiang Rai.
What she does at school reminds mystery to us. Whenever we try to ask her, she would playfully say, “I don’t know” and sometimes with a wink.
The only thing I know is that a Thai elementary school does make an eleven-year-old very hungry. The first time I picked her up from school, I was surprised by how many little food trucks were waiting at the school gate. There was a large selection of Thai snacks that I cannot name, but there were also common snacks (well, common to me at least) such as potato chips, popsicles, and an ice cream snack that highly resembles Dippin Dots. On a hot sunny day in a tropical country like Thailand, there is no wonder that seeing all these would make a little girl’s mouth water.
The fifteen-minute-walk from school to home has been a good workout to me. As she puts it, “I like to RUUUN”, which apparently implies that “I like to run so you have to race with me”, I am forced to run across a golf field (which is totally legal), pass numerous dogs that bark at us as if we just stole their babies, and finally to the center, exhausted. However, apart from the danger of getting too fit, a plus of this “walk” is that I am usually more than willing to take a cold shower right after it.
About an hour after my shower, it is time for her individually tailored English class. As usual, she would touch my wet hair, roll her eyes and say, “I don’t like showers” and then reluctantly take out her textbook and start to think about which lesson she would enjoy today. After a few pages, however, the eleven-year-old would appear to be more and more engaged and sometimes demand me to teach her more.
As a reward after class, I am usually asked to sit next to her and watch cartoons in Thai, a language that I understand nothing but “hello” and “thank you”. I am also asked to be interested and laugh whenever it is supposed to be funny. This has been a real challenge to be and has urged me to learn some Thai or at least something about this Japanese children’s show.
As days go by, I am gradually learning more about this eleven-year-old’s life, about the little things she enjoys and her little thoughts about life. I have to admit that this is fascinating to me: attempted to teach someone but ended up learning more from her.