Welcome to Laituri village school. With 500 students we are big for a village school and occupy a building just across from the village church. The school is a monumental concrete structure with aluminum siding, around an inner courtyard where cows graze. In front are a row of pines so narrow, tall, straight and fuzzy-needled they look like poplars, as well as a basketball court with two hoops but one rim and a board missing from the backboard. Behind the school are the outhouses, and the mountains.
Like many dilapidated exteriors in Laituri (basically one giant ruined tea plantation) our school contains surprisingly nice and neat interiors. While we may not have a lunch room (kids go home early to eat), we do have a computer lab (where I am typing), gymnasium (both rims), ping pong room, little library and I have heard rumors of a piano room somewhere. The teacher lounge next to the office has cinema seating, a little push button one mashes to ring the forty-five minute bell (staring at 9 a.m.) and a hand-written master schedule. There’s also a break room where coffee and sweets (and honey vodka on occasion) happens. There is a printer/scanner/copier in the principal’s office that works just fine.
In fact our principal was/is an English teacher, but I work with the other three excellent English teachers: Nino, Tea, and Neli, all women teachers, all experienced. I wonder what they must think to have foreigners stroll in and become the stars just by virtue of their exotic value. “You fantastic!” kids scream at me in the village roadways. Meanwhile it is to them the rude task of discipline falls as students try to outscream each other with their little karate-chop hand-raising “Mas! Mas!” (“Teacher! Teacher!”)
Nino teaches the littlest children on the bottom floor. Today the second graders enjoyed an improvised game of touching things of different colors. Next time Nino and I plan to play fruit salad with colors (like musical chairs) and distribute a color-by-words picture of an octopus in seaweed. With Tea I also teach on the bottom floor. The kids get bigger as the floors go up. I do not teach the top, third floor non-elementary children. On the second floor I teach fourth and fifth-graders with Neli. They really love the vowel song:
“A-E-I-O-U, A-E-I-O-U, A-E-I-O-U, hello what’s your name?” (to the tune of Bingo-was-his-nam-o)
I hear them singing it in the stairs and long corridors, and even on the way home, dressed in their new school clothes, boys in wide-striped shirts of white shirts with black vests, girls in jean-overall skirts with big new combed braids. I want to say to them too, and the teachers and staff, “You fantastic!”