April 24, 2009

School Days Part 2

(This is part of an ongoing series chronicling memories of my life growing up as a missionary kid in Vanuatu. For links to previous posts you can go here)

Somewhere during the middle of our time in Vanuatu Mum and Dad became concerned about my not interacting with kids my own age. The Scott's had left and the new missionary family had a new baby, but no children my own age. I was too shy to wander down to the married quarters very often, and the girls my age were at school during the day anyway. So one day a week they sent Joshua and I to the local school.

Down the road that goes to The Point, a bit after the farm is the local primary school. It is called Tata school.

I would dress in the morning in the uniform - a simple dark green skirt (shorts for boys) and a white blouse. The Talua bus would round up all the kids at Talua and leave us at the school gate.

English only was spoken during school, which shouldn't have been a problem for me seeing as how my English was better than the teachers. But I had this weird thing were I found it nearly impossible to speak English to Ni-Vanuatu. Just as I found it impossible to speak Bislama to any Anglo people. Even though I was fluent in both, and could theoretically speak both to both groups, something in my brain would automatically switch between the two in the 'right' situation and I had to work really hard to talk the other language in the reverse situation. (Ian Scott was always trying to get me to speak Bislama to him, and even though I could form the words in my brain I would look at him and it would come out in English. I'm sure a language expert would be able to say something profound about this but it just seems weird to me). (Though I would often take the way of talking each language and use that interchangeably)

Once I remember clearly talking to the teacher and suddenly becoming aware I was speaking Bislama. I stoped and tried to say it again in English but got mixed up and flustered. He didn't say anything, though other children had gotten into trouble for speaking Bislama. While I was thankful (I lived in fear of getting into trouble), I also felt uncomfortable that there were double standards about how the teacher treated me and the rest of the class.

Lunch time was great fun, but looking at it now from an Australian student-teacher point of view all I can see are potentials for suing. All the teachers went to their homes for lunch, the children were left on their own for at least an hour (could have been more?). Most of the girls would sit and talk, or play the Vanuatu version of hopscotch or some other game. The boys often disappeared to the beach which was a few hundred meters away.

After the first day I asked Mum did not send sandwiches with me for lunch, I preferred a container of plain rice and cold Kamala (sweet potato) like the other girls.

After school ended for the day all the Talua kids walked home together. The boys up the front with the girls trailing behind. We would laugh and joke and make mischief. The best was when it had rain all night and the bridge had collapsed so we had to go home via the river and waded through waist deep water.

After a couple of months though I stopped going. I was sick of the spacial treatment I was given; the teachers never picking me up when I did something wrong, and the other children giggling behind their hands. I was sick of having bright shiny pencils and a new bag when many of the children had nothing. I hated it if the principal would call Joshua and I to his house and give us nice things to eat and then his family would sit around and watch us. I hated that we got into trouble at home for doing this when all our cultural instincts said we were not allowed to say no.

It was about this time I started to withdraw more. I learnt to stop talking and watch everything closely - become aware of body language and read every situation as closely as possible before allowing myself to become involved. I immersed myself in a world of books and babies because both these things were safe and I didn't have to worry about being culturally appropriate or watching every word I said, or worry it would come back to haunt me.

1 comment:

Kacie said...

Interesting the way the understanding of how different you were slowly crept in and really bothered you. I also withdrew a lot and spent a lot of time reading in my childhood.