I've been away from home for twelve days now, and I've been in Chiang Rai for ten. Within those days I've been promoted from "a team" that has to be hosted; to an individual missionary in training; to a supposedly qualified, experienced and adequate enough missionary to babysit, dash down the street to pick up guilty indulgences of ham and cheese sandwiches and jell-O drinks at the local Seven Eleven. I guess my host family thinks that my Thai diction is more than sufficient for this simple errand. The truth is, though, it's not that my Thai diction is "more than sufficient" at all, just that my hand gestures are.
Oh, and I teach English classes all by myself now, too. I taught my very first class solo Wednesday. All by myself. I suppose sitting in on several classes earned me this privilege--plus the teacher's daughter's appendix nearly erupted, so he was held up at the hospital the remainder of the day. One of the Grace Language School staffers paid me and my temporary desk a visit to personally ask if I could sub. Without a curriculum to follow. Just on the fly. Eleven students. Level Three, the extreme lowest level a forong [foreigner; doesn't it sound derogatory?] is capable of teaching. All the levels lower than that you must be fluent in Thai to just be able to communicate with your newbie students, let alone teach them a very complicated language.
Now, the staffer that asked me is a sweetheart. But he also looks like your typical television Asian FBI agent/assassin. He looks like the type who would break your pinkie with chopsticks if you dared tell him "good morning." Of course, he wouldn't actually because I've told him "good morning" several times now and both of my pinkies are still...unbroken. Still. It wasn't like I was about to tell him no, either. Besides, I love my language and gerunds and proper grammar (however, with that said, I now feel very self-conscious of my writing...which you are...reading. Yay), so I was excited for this incredible opportunity dropped nicely right in my lap.
However, with all that said, that doesn't mean that I didn't immediately start doing that thing I always do when I have an extremely nerve-wracking task to prepare for--and then perform!--in an extremely small time frame: Focus, and freak out. Focus on freaking out? Freaked out focus? Whatever.
Awesome God thing, though: I had been putting together a binder over the previous days that was filled with different subjects for English class. Pets and animals--pictures of grinning Labradors above the three-letter word "DOG" and kissing goldfishes above their four-letter word "FISH." Places around the world--Paris in France, Italy, bluffs in the west deserts of America, London in England. These were a couple of all the subjects my supervisor had me document. I decided class would be on Food that night, Food with its pictures of frosted over with chill Popsicles, cream cheesed bagels (they don't have those here! Mournful day), and oozy pizza.
I picked six foods, labeled them, and printed out eleven copies of each. Seventy-two hamburgers, dishes of fried rice, and fish and their names to be cut out separately and divided evenly into little baggies. Maybe two hours until I needed to be in my classroom, ready to greet my (emphasis on the my) arriving students, maybe less. It took me a whole half hour to just cut out the dang hamburgers alone. Thankfully, my life is a chocolate box, so there was a handsome Thai guy bumming in the office who was more than willing to be my hero of the moment. He cut up the remaining sixty pages as fast as I could print them. Thanks to him, everything was completely ready, in its baggie, and I was seated in my classroom at the teacher's desk almost half an hour before my three on-time students milled in. Pi, New, and what's-her-face.
The other five (only eight students that day) shuffled in late, attending class when they so chose, I introduced myself as their substitute teacher, Betsie, from America. I had them each introduce themselves in turn, partly for my benefit (I didn't know their names!), and partly for theirs (they come to these classes to speak English, after all).
I instructed them in matching the cut-out food pictures with the correct words (they got apple pie and bagel switched around), and then we played a memory game. I wrote questions up on the board in blue marker about different dishes, had them pair up, and had them ask one another the questions. While they asked away, I blasted nice and loud TobyMac music--pausing it randomly to assure that they wouldn't try to sneak speaking in Thai--so as to force them to speak loudly and pronunciate. I had to frequently chide two of my students, two University boys who would make moon eyes at me the entire time I rebuked them for only asking each other two out of the five questions; I had to define "pronunciate" and come up with a thesaurus of different words on the spot to ask the simple question, "Are you done?" I explained what bagels are, and I assigned homework. After they were finished with everything else, I named the foods and they repeated the words that just don't seem to roll off of Thai tongues the right way back to me. We sounded like an assembled class of moaning zombies, I'm sure; me with my "haaaammmmmm-berrrrrrrrg-errrrr"s and they with their "hommmm-bewg-urrrrrrr"s.
It was cute.
I savored saying, "Class dismissed!" promptly at 6:30 p.m. (Though the glamor of that perfect moment was slightly spoiled because preceding it was a moment in which I had to explain what "class dismissed" meant.) And I smiled contentedly to myself, filled up with a glorious feeling of accomplishment as I farewelled my students at the door; straightened the room in peaceful, solitaire silence; gathered my belongings; shut the AC off; turned down the lights; and closed the the classroom door behind me.
Nearly two weeks done. Six more to enjoy.