K3: “Konjam porunga!”

If you would like to view just the workshop report, click here.

Last week, some Big Shot visited Kakkaiyankulam to open a school building, which means there would have been no place for a rowdy children’s workshop. Fortunately I called Mr Farhan Sunday night before leaving, or else I would have been in Vavuniya before I found out! So this week I’m doing two workshops for the kids, partly to keep working on my rapport with them. My bags this time are rather heavy, filled with 30 pairs of scissors, 30 bottles of glue, Chemifix (“binder gum”! Don’t you miss seeing that in school book lists?) files to be decorated, sandwich bags of decorations for each file, stickers for the good writers this week (Fathima and Sabeeha), snacks…is it any wonder that I feel like a travelling magician every time I open my suitcase in that dusty classroom? Just an aside, but I can’t begin to describe how excited I am to buy a big boxful of craft stuff for the year when I visit  Princeton this Friday. It just makes me sad that I probably won’t work with this particular lot of children for the entire time – there are quite a lot of children in Kakkaiyankulam, and I feel like I should also work with another age group in about 4 months. I’m already too fond of this lot to want to get acquainted with anyone else, though! We’ll see how it goes, though. Perhaps it might be most beneficial for these children and myself to have a good working relationship for the year, perhaps it will be better to have two or three iterations of the workshops. All I know is I could probably keep going forever were I to be funded the way ReachOut does currently.

I’m not sure what it is, but this week I seem to have left a lot of things at home…well, two. The first being my iPod+headphones, the second (much more important), my camera. So this week’s photos will have that slightly blurry unfocused mobile phone quality. You can be sure I won’t leave my camera behind again, although I must say the pictures upload to my blog much faster.

I still have not mastered the ability to go to sleep early on the Sunday night before I leave, and the fact that I was in the hated aisle seat this time meant I got a crick in my neck for my trying-to-sleep efforts. Still working on making the whole going-to-Vavuniya process a slick operation, but I did manage to get a decent chunk of Imagined Communities read on the train ride. It’s not only teaching me a whole lot about nationalism, it’s also teaching me a lot about good writing – each chapter is remarkably clearly laid-out.

I stopped at Food City to pick up the juice for the kids, and was a little sharp with the unfortunate sales clerk who had no idea that I had ordered 60 tetra packs of juice (30 for each day). But if I am honest, it really is my fault. I assumed it was the manager I spoke to, and never asked for his name (despite the fact that my father has told me a million times to get the name of whoever I’m calling). So I didn’t know who I’d talked to, and he salesperson didn’t know who to check with. Turned out there didn’t seem to be 30 of anything, and being the fastidious fusspot that I am, I didn’t fancy taking a motley assortment of milk and juice for the children (what if you didn’t like strawberry milk, and that’s what you got, and your friend got the mango juice you did like? Yes, maybe I overthink these things, but I know that’s what I would have thought, being a fusspot!) but the sales person didn’t seem to see why I was being so difficult, although he tried valiantly to provide alternative suggestions, all of which I rejected. I was almost going to settle for Milo three weeks running, but fortunately I didn’t have to. I was a little ashamed of my fussiness, and it’s strange how I suddenly felt more Sinhalese than ever, but he finally found that 60 packs of juice that had been tied up in a bag in the corner of the fridge. Whew. I also made another small fiscal mistake. I ordered two kinds of juice, one for each day: this brand called My Juicee for the first, and Just Juice for the second. I thought Just Juice would be expensive, but I was told it was only 60 rupees a pack. I’d heard wrong – it was 160 rupees! I figured it was a one-time-only thing, though, and that ReachOut really wouldn’t mind that the kids got fancier juice at break for once. So I paid the extra 3000 rupees, and I am looking forward to apple juice at break-time tomorrow. Little pleasures, you see.

I fell asleep in the van again – it’s that curious combination of hot and cold that does it really, with the a/c blasting in your face while the afternoon Vavuniya sun beats down on you simultaneously. When I got to the village there were only six kids, and I was afraid they’d gotten tired of my workshops. But by 3.30 there were 24 of them again (I must say, my retention rate as of week 3 is 100%, even though I think there are two or three new ones to replace the two or three who have gone missing!) and we played name toss with two balls instead of one – naturally, it got a little chaotic. I also tried to play that keep-the-ball-in-the-air game (you stand in a circle, you toss the ball around, and you can only hit it once) but they kept disintegrating into wildness. It’s interesting, really. We’ve been used to organised sports from the time we were very little, but these children quite clearly haven’t. The boys were better at the game than the girls were, but that’s also because their neat circle quite quickly became a frenzied cluster. We’ll keep working on this, though; I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Having Mr Farhan around is useful because he not only grasps and translates what I’m saying, but also understands what I’m trying to achieve through each exercise, and communicates that to the children. It’s why he is principal, I guess! I got Sabeeha and Fathima to read out their character sketches, but Mr Farhan told them to think more about the movies they’d watched and books they’d read to create something with more life. I meant to set an exercise where they watched the last over of the Asia Cup, and were each assigned characters (members of the Bangladeshi team, their relatives, their friends, their coach, the Bangladeshi spectators) and talk about what they felt during that last over and in the face of their subsequent defeat. I think I am doomed to never show that piece of footage, though. Attempts to download it always end in a corrupted file that stops works after the 3-minute mark, and I just could not connect to the internet in Kakkaiyankulam despite relatively unshabby phone coverage. I eventually gave up, and because I’d made the mistake of not having a back-up plan, I asked them to simply create a new character. I’m curious to see what effect Mr Farhan’s intervention will have on their writing, and I will be more creative with my next writing exercise.

After the break, I decide to get started on the crafts project straight away. My mother had suggested I do a small-scale cutting and gluing exercise for these children before launching into the more sophisticated file-decorating bonanza (I have a tendency to get really involved in my crafts projects; you’ll see the results in photos from tomorrow’s blog post), so today’s exercise consisted of cutting up 8 fat strips of paper and 5 circles (“This is how you cut neatly – small cuts, not big ones!”), gluing them with ordinary water-based glue (“You don’t put the glue everywhere, just around the edge!”), and neatly gluing some wool around the edges using Chemifix (“Don’t use your fingers! Here, use this handy cotton bud!”). Basically I’m teaching these 10-year-olds to be as OCD as me about arts and crafts. This could end up being a bad thing, but for now they don’t seem to mind being ruled with an iron fist. Iseverely miscalculated how much time it would take to do this exercise, and we went overtime. It was almost dark when we left, and I’m always embarrassed at how Mr Farhan asks the girls to do all the piddly tasks I should be doing myself (like cleaning the Chemifix out of the yogurt cups – I did join in, though). Tomorrow, I’m starting the file decorating first, and if it means we take the whole workshop assembling it, then so be it. I should have brought more Chemifix.

We took a “shortcut” home – 18km shorter, but only fifteen minutes saved because the road was stupendously bad. It looked as if elephants had danced in it. I’m not sure we’re going to use that one again. I used the drive to learn the days of the week in Tamil from Kamal (I can never remember Tuesday and Thursday, though) – I think it’s Thingal, Sewwan, Pudham, Viyalam, Velli, Senni, and Nyaire. I could be wrong, and I’ll check again today. Also, naalei means tomorrow, but I’ve forgotton what next week, and hours/minutes are. Probably the most useful phrase I learned during the workshop was “Konjam porunga!” (“Wait a bit!”) since I end up having to use that on my enthusiastic young workshoppers a lot! I know how to say thank you (“nandri”) but I really need to learn to say please.

After getting back, I stayed true to my vegetarian promise and had chapati and potato curry. Mr Kanapathy was right, though. It was delicious. I tried really hard to be a city girl and stream Sherlock afterwards (having watched the whole first season on Saturday, I really wanted to dig into the second) but it was no go. Vavuniya was having none of my snotty Colombo ways, and refused to let the internet work non-spottily. At 9.30pm I accepted defeat and went to bed. I will henceforth leave internet TV-watching for Colombo, and limit my tv-watching to Tamil soaps in the dining room at mealtimes.

p.s. As of this week, I’m including the tag #lyproject. Check out the Leap Year Project if you would like to know more, or get involved.

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