Sunday, March 12, 2006

After months of painstaking practice, students quitting, arrangements being made, props being ordered, costumes being made, new students filling in, and all the hassles that go along with trying to put a large play together with thirty children aged six to eight...our play, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" is finally ready to go on.

But not without a few snags.

The performance will be tomorrow morning, Monday the 13th of March, so today we had a final practice before the big day tomorrow. At least four children didn't show up today, so naturally we're worried that they may not show up tomorrow.

Two of these kids are from my neighborhood, on Soi four, in what I refer to as the "poor" part of town. But, in Asia, you never have to go far to find a "poor" section, as unlike the West, where certain poor areas seem to have been pushed to the wayside, or the "other side of the tracks," here in Thailand they are everywhere.

Corrugated shacks are mixed in with modern buildings and people all seem to get along fairly well together here.

But with poverty, comes problems.

Today after our practice, Mam was asked to find Bebe and Nontawut, the two kids in our neighborhood who missed today's practice, and remind them that they have to show up for the final performance tomorrow.

Easier said than done.

Bebe lives in a small, squalid, one-room house that has no windows. It is approximately nine feet by nine feet in square area (2.7 x 2.7 meters), in which there is a stove for cooking, several mats on the floor for sleeping, and a T.V.

God only knows where they relieve themselves, because there is no visible toilet in the immediate proximity. The house smells musty and rank, from years of being inundated by floods.

Bebe typically wasn't home when Mam called on him. A young woman answered the door, and was busy jostling four young babies, stating she didn't know where Bebe was, so Mam began to ask around the neighborhood.

She went to Nui's house on the corner and was informed that Bebe had been severely beaten by his father this morning and was nowhere to be found.

At this juncture, Mam signaled to me to go on ahead and return home, as she would continue the search. I knew that what she really meant was that she could do a lot better on her own, so I let her go and went home.

A little history may help here.

Bebe is one of my prize Prathom two students.

Although he's from an extremely impoverished family, he is a star student. He is in one of the worst Prathom two classes this year, yet he has excelled and has learnt English despite the odds.

The school where I teach decided to award Bebe a large cash stipend last month, during our mid-semester activities, not only because he is very poor, but because despite his families financial situation, Bebe has excelled in school subjects.

Last Saturday, during one of our Goldilocks practices, Bebe's father showed up to watch. When he arrived, you could see the visible stress on Bebe's face as the child noticed his father walk into the auditorium. Bebe's father is an obvious scumbag, who doesn't care much about his appearance, let alone his conduct.

As I was coaching the kids on their performance, Bebe's father sauntered up to Mam and asked her in Thai, "Will my son get paid for this?"

Mam didn't know what to say, so she waved him off.

She said to me later, "I don't like that man."

Bebe's father is like many Thai children's fathers...

Lazy, unemployed, alcoholic, abusive, and living off what their poor overworked wives can bring into the household. They play all day, or lie around and drink Thai whiskey, expecting all to be well.

Mam finally found Bebe today, entering what I call the "Catacombs," of Soi four, which are a maze work of pathways leading to progressively poorer hovels nearer the river. Places I wouldn't have the intestinal fortitude to venture into. Once she found him, he refused to come out to greet her, instead opting to speak to her from a back room, through another child.

"He says he'll show up tomorrow," Mam says, but only time will tell.

I've never been to Nontawut's house, but when Mam returned to our place, she said, "His family is very, very poor,"

I knew immediately, from that statement, that what Bebe is used to, is a mansion compared to where Nontawut lives.

Nontawut is a sweet boy who is a bit shy, but is a good student. He eagerly jumped at the opportunity to be in the play, and to date has done very well. He has a huge, horseshoe shaped scar on the right side of his head, from an accident he suffered when he was only four, playing with other kids at the local dump.

Back many years ago, some kid hurled a sharp object at Nontawut, striking him in the head. Nontawut would have died had it not been for locals who grabbed him, threw him in a truck and drove him to a local hospital. He underwent several hours of intricate brain surgery and emerged unscathed, with only minor memory deficits.

Mam told me that Nontawut told her he "forgot" about today's practice, but both of us knew that he was probably fudging it, as all the members of the play had been given permission slips to give to their parents, notifying them of today's practice.

Nobody really knows the mechanics that go on behind the scenes of these impoverished kids lives, but all I know is that the kids who do show up and do end up performing in the play, always have a good time and end up feeling a sense of importance and accomplishment.

As a kid, I was a "quitter," meaning I would easily sign up for things, but soon lose confidence in my abilities and "quit," because I felt I couldn't perform adequately. I was punished severely for this "quality" of mine, when I was a kid, but I never really learned my lesson until now.

Many of my past experiences as a student in school have helped me to be an effective teacher in grade school. Kids are all about fun, affection, love, happiness and playing. If you can design your classes and activities in a similar fashion, you've nailed it. If not, kids are gonna be kids and you will have to deal with the results as a teacher.

Whatever the situation, I'm sure that tomorrow's performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears will go off well. I'm not worried, and I'm looking forward to another big, two-month break in semesters.



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