Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Daily Life in Mandalay

Every place I’ve been, there have been cell phones.   Farmers in Malawi have them.  Teachers in Samoa have them.  Young kids in America have them.  In Mandalay, they don’t have them.  Yes, they exist here, but they are expensive.  $300 for the cheapest phone, $300 for a SIM card.  I heard the prices will be coming down, but they would have to come WAY down before I’ll invest in one.

My apartment smells like poop.  And it’s not because of anything I did.  It doesn’t always smell this way, but occasionally, there’s a definite odor of sewage.  Apparently it comes from the drains.  Someone suggested I use incense but then it would just smell like shitcense.

I took my first spin on a motorcycle.  Admittedly it was just circling the drive in front of the school, but I did ok.  With a little practice, I’ll be ready to hit the road.  But I have some concerns.  Traffic here is crazy – people driving the wrong way down the street.  People making random turns.  There is no insurance.  The nearest healthcare for any even moderately serious issue is Bangkok.  Several other teachers have been in accidents.  Sometimes their fault, sometimes not.  While I want the freedom a bike would give, I’m worried about getting hurt.  I have to climb stairs to my apartment and my classroom.  If I end up on crutches I’d have a tough time.  Right now I’m leaning toward getting a motorcycle to use to tool around the countryside and stick with taxis in the city.

Wait until you see the new paint job on the front doors to my classroom.  They used to be beige.   My class is officially “First Grade Yellow”.  There’s also First Grade Red and First Grade Blue.  The first week of school we decided to name our class.  The kids created a list of yellow things then voted and selected Sunflowers.   I was relieved, since some of the other options were PE Uniforms (theirs are yellow), shoe and cheese.  The door is now painted like a field of sunflowers.  It is beautiful!

It’s now Thursday evening.  After another trip into town last night to shop, I won’t be riding a motorcycle in town.  That will significantly limit my mobility but the traffic is simply too horrendous and dangerous.  At one point last night I was looking out the window of the bus at the family of four riding on a motor bike next to me.  Then a truck swung into their lane and they were almost crushed between our bus and the truck.  Not enough room to move ahead to get away and barely enough room to slam on the brakes and miss being squished to death.  That kind of thing is common. 

At one point there were at least 30 motorcycles stopped in the middle of an intersection – trying to either get across or turn left into the lane that was trying to get across.  Many were facing on-coming traffic, which included our bus, heading at them and not slowing.  They had nowhere to go to get out of the way.  Even if I could manage it without incident, I’d be a nervous wreck.  My decision was confirmed when I got home.  Walking upstairs to my apartment I tripped on the last step and went down on all fours, with my groceries scattered about.  I think it was God saying “Dummy, you can barely walk, do you really want to try to take it to another level?”

I’ve looked for a couple of items at three different stores and haven’t found them.  Flour  and maple syrup.  I didn’t expect it to be real maple syrup.  Or even good maple syrup.  Just some kind of Karo thing, since French toast is one of my go-to meals when I’m too pooped to cook.

The other thing?  Flour.  I know they have it because they have bakeries.  Where they sell tasty éclairs for $.50.  And whole wheat bread.  So they must have flour.  Several of the other teachers share my fondness for Mexican food.  One kind gent even said he’d share a can of refried beans which he got in Bangkok.  We have all the ingredients for guacamole and salsa and they’re easy to make.  I could whip up some flour tortillas if I could find flour.  Plus, the guys checking out at the store in front of me had some peppers that looked like a cross between poblanos and cubanelles.  I’ll check those out next trip to the store.

I’m ¼ of the way through next week’s lesson plans, which should mean I won’t spend all day Saturday working.  That would be nice.  I plan to hire the tuktuk driver I heard about and see how that goes.  It’s amazing that I’ve been here almost 3 weeks and still have seen so little of anything but my classroom.  It’s been fine, especially when I first arrived and was both sick and jet lagged, but now I’m ready to play tourist.

Well, I’m officially angry and frustrated at the school this morning.  I overslept a bit this morning.  I like to be up by 6 at the latest so I can get dressed and have breakfast and still be out the door by 6:30.  This morning I didn’t wake up until 6:15 and rushed to get out by 6:35.  That may seem fast to some, considering that involves showering, blow drying, makeup and dressing but when one is a natural beauty it can be done quickly.

I was happy to arrive at school before the rain started.  Only 6:45, no one else there on the internet so I could get some work done.  Possibly even get a lot of next week’s lesson plans finished.  I have a routine in the classroom – first I turn on the power.  Next is the air conditioning, since even though it’s only about 80 at that time of day, the room is warm and stuffy.  Next I turn on the computer and log in.  While the computer does that, I fill my Hard Rock water bottle.  Today I brought a special treat of lime juice powder to add to the water.  It’s surprisingly tasty and refreshing, although I’m sure it’s mostly sugar.

All was going well.  Typical morning.  Until I tried to log in.  I got a message that my account had been disabled and I should check with the administrator.  That means I can’t access the shared drive which has all the work the students will be doing today, the videos for the dance routines I use to transition from one subject to another and my unfinished lesson plans.  It also means no access to the internet.  Yesterday Yahoo kindly blocked my account, apparently because someone in Myanmar was trying to access it.  Oh, that would be me.  I had to wait 24 hours to access it.  That would be this morning.

Internet is spotty here, it’s a country wide issue.  At the school it is pretty much unavailable after about 10:00 a.m. because there are too many users.  I could come in late at night or really early in the morning to have enough time on the internet but they turn the servers off.

I’m fine with getting in at 6:30 am six days a week so I can have internet access and do my prep work (downloading materials, etc.)  But when I’m blocked from doing that, with no warning, it pisses me off.

I suspect I was blocked because yesterday I asked the IT guy for help in installing the most current version of the VLC media player so I could watch the videos stored on the shared computer in the lounge in our apartment building.  When he tried to do it, he found a virus on my external hard drive.  Since that drive was fine before I got here and I’ve only used it on the computer in my classroom and the one in the lounge, it seems I had to get it here.  He said he would come to the apartment to check out the computer there.  When I arrived he was gone and the computer was gone with him. 

Since I’d agreed not to use my infected hard drive until we could resolve the issue (it looks like he’s going to have to reformat it which could mean losing everything on it), I’m not sure why he blocked access to my account.   All I know is I could still be in bed, listening to the rain instead of sitting in the classroom with no access to any materials.  Grrrr.

By the way, my sunflower door is finally complete.  It really is beautiful and the art teacher put a lot of time into it.  As a thank you, the kids wrote thank you letters and I gave her a chocolate bar.  She was thrilled.  Chocolate is relatively expensive here ($2.50 for a Cadbury bar) and what young woman doesn’t like chocolate? 
Birthdays!  I’d been warned about impromptu birthday celebrations.  Parents (or their servants) will drop off a cake and expect everything to stop for a birthday celebration that might last an hour.  Plus leave the kids on a sugar high for the rest of the day, since the cakes normally arrive shortly after the start of school.

Yesterday was the birthday of one of the kids and I was prepared.  I wrote “Happy Birthday, Joseph” in giant letters on the white board and drew balloons.  I mentally adjusted the lesson plans to account for the change.  When Joseph arrived, he seemed a little embarrassed to tell me that there would only be a party after school.  No cake.  I was relieved but also a bit disappointed.  No cake.

Later in the day I had the kids line up in order of their birthdays so we could have a list and anticipate the impromptu parties.  It went well over all but they are first graders.  One little boy knew his birthday is in August but didn’t know what day.  Another boy, when I asked what day his birthday was, excitedly yelled “Tuesday!”  “This Tuesday?”  I asked.  “No, December Tuesday!”  Okay, then.

Speaking of birthdays, isn’t it funny that one of the girls and I share a birthday.  Halloween.  I had a job once where there were four of us working together.  It was a newly formed group and the job I moved to Florida to take.  I was a bit surprised when I walked into the office the first morning that the first thing anyone said to me was “When’s your birthday?”  When I said Halloween my three new co-workers started howling.  It seems that three of the four of us were born on Halloween.  We decided that was the criteria used in the selection process.  They let the fourth guy in just so it wouldn’t look like discrimination.

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