On our way back from
the durian farm, Friska asked if I would visit her afternoon class in another
village, 20 minutes away by bus. I agreed immediately and even roped Rob into
Friska and her husband
run an after-school English program for the children of agricultural workers.
It’s called Skill Board: Accelerated English Course. They charge half the price
of English classes in Sidikalang, with the goal of giving the farm kids the
chance to leave the farm. The school is set up in a large room open to the
street. Classes are taught by students at the Senior High School. They divided
the room into four areas by cubicle walls, so four different levels of students
can be taught at the same time. It’s a cacophony of voices, an absolute
madhouse of noise.
Rob and I were
separated; Rob to speak to the older kids, me to the younger. “They are very
much beginners” Friska’s husband explained. “So stick with greetings.” I was
then pushed in front of a crowd of thirty ten-year-olds, crammed into a space
not much larger than a janitor’s closet. “Hello” I said. “Hello” they chorused,
giggling. I had to shout to be heard over the noise from the other classes. “How are you today?” Silence. The teacher
prodded them. “Fiiiine” a few of them popped out. More silence. “What is your
name?” I asked a girl in pink. I asked ten more kids their names. Finally
Friska’s husband whisked me into another class. I introduced myself again. More
awkward giggles and silence. The kids just stared at me, eyes like saucer
plates. A few minutes later I was pushed into a third class. I didn’t know what
to say. “Who plays football?” I asked. “What’s your favorite color?”
his knees in front of the whiteboard, drawing pictures of bats and butterflies
and explaining what breakfast was.
mobbed us in front of the school. They stood in a circle mere inches from us, just staring. The young teachers had many questions about America. One
boy wanted to know how to improve his English. Then the same boy asked for a
souvenir – something of ours to show his mother that he had spoken with
foreigners. Rob and I looked down at ourselves. I didn’t have much in the way
of superfluous stuff. All I had was a pen from the University of Oregon. Rob
had a hairband. The kid took the pen and the hairband with joy. “Thank you!
Thank you so much!” he said, “Yes!!!” This made the other kids really excited.
“Souvenir!” a few of them cried.
anything else,” I said. I rustled through my purse – wallet, passport,
notebook, water bottle – that was pretty much it.
teachers, a 16 or 17 year-old girl, pointed to my necklace. “You could give me
“No, I can’t,” I said.
I was beginning to feel overwhelmed and tired. Then the next batch of students
arrived,from the high school. Friska asked if we would mind saying something
inspirational to the kids, to encourage them in their education. Of course not.
So we went back into the room, the walls looking slightly covered in algae, and Rob introduced us. He’s good at talking. He told the kids that
the key to success is to read, because once you read well you can learn anything
you want to on the internet. He made a good point, and I actually felt
stayed in class, and Rob and I were able to slip out without being surrounded. A
few of the kids from the earlier class were still hanging around, so we chatted
with them as we waited for the bus. The bus took its own sweet time to arrive,
so it was late by the time we got back to Sidikalang.