10 January 2009

Three days in hell - Part 3

The next morning was another early start. We were beginning the day with exercise on the beach. The students arrived in dribs and drabs with many still wearing their pyjamas. By six the beach had brightened up enough for us to get to work.

My friend Punit was the PE instructor, and so he took the lead in warming-up the students with jumping-jacks and light stretches. I wandered around trying to encourage everyone to get involved. Many of the students were just sitting in the sand looking miserable and claiming, “too tired, Ajahn”. Most joined in after a bit of coaxing, but a few needed to be scolded or threatened into exercising with the rest.

A buzz of excitement spread through our congregation with the arrival of our Chinese maths teacher who had decided to go for an early morning swim. The fact that he was wearing a pair of speedos meant that he had lost his usual image of sternness. The kids all cheered as he dove into the sea and began swimming parallel to the beach.

We finished off the morning work-out with jogging. Three hundred students running along the beach was a chaotic scene. I ran behind. I needed to stop every few metres to pull up fallen students. Some had legitimately slipped in the sand but most were just diving in an attempt to get out of the exercise.

After breakfast we set up our activity stations. Prior to coming to the camp all the attending teachers had planned their own activity. I had decided on a type of ‘go fish’ game where I provided over a hundred words on small cards, and the aim of the game was to form as many sentences as possible. All our stations were spread out around the resort. I had been given my own bar in which to set up. This outside bar was empty of all alcohol so there was no need to worry that the other resort residents might mistake me for the real thing. The bar-top provided an ideal space to set out my word cards.

The students had been divided into twelve groups, and they spent twenty minutes at each activity station. Upon arriving at each station they would begin by shouting their team ‘boom’ while performing a group-hug. When the chanting was finished it was time for them to get to work. Almost all the students seemed to enjoy my ‘go fish’ activity and most seemed really eager to win as many points for their team as possible. The twenty minute sessions passed quickly, but by midday I felt completely shattered and bored with the game.

After lunch we had beach activities. We were now completely out of kilter with our schedule, but our head of department was still determined to salvage something from her plans by getting the students to complete all the games that she had set for that afternoon. We were only on the beach a few minutes before she realised that the students had no interest in following our programme. They just wanted to swim and getting three hundred students to co-operate in games on a beach felt near impossible. Our head of department admitted defeat and decided that everyone could just swim. The students cheered their victory.

Despite my colleague’s early morning swim in his speedos, we had been warned by management that we were expected to wear respectable clothing at all times. If we wanted to swim we would need to wear out clothes. I had on my track-suit so bottoms and a polo shirt, and so jumped in the water and began swimming around Thai-style - fully dressed. I joined the students who had swum out the furthest and attempted to supervise their safety.

The students were loving the water, and I worried that the over-excitement might lead to accidents. I tried to stay near the more troublesome students whose energy threatened to put them in danger. We played a game called ling which means ‘monkey’ in English. One of the students had removed their t-shirt, and we used it like a ball by throwing it to one another. One student was the ling, and it was his job to stay in the middle of the group until he could catch the improvised ball. It was great fun, and for a while I forgot that I was their teacher and became just one of the group.

A western couple were walking along the beach and stopped in apparent amazement at the sight of our group. We must have looked like some spectacle; three hundred students acting like they had never seen water before and a westerner swimming with them while fully clothed.

We spent about two hours in the water. I began to worry that we were in danger of heat stroke, and I was beginning to flag in my job of supervising. I felt relieved when the bosses decided that we had enough, and we left the water without sustaining any injuries.

In the evening we were joined by our school principal who is also a Buddhist monk. This was to be the official grand finale of the cam; although we had planned a few more activities for the next morning.

The Filipino teachers began the evening’s entertainment by teaching everyone a dance which is popular in their country. They called it the ‘papaya dance’, and it looked great fun ; although I did everything I could to avoid actually joining in. I explained to them that. “Irish men don’t dance”, and when this didn’t convince them I used the excuse that I wanted to take photos of the event.

After the ‘papaya dance’ it was time for the balloon dance. Here the students needed to dance around with balloons tied to their feet. The object was to burst everyone else’s balloons. If all your balloons were burst you were out of the game. It turned out to be great fun although once again some students almost caused injury in their over-enthusiasm.

We ended the night with a ghost story. We turned down all the lights and put on a sound effects CD that I had compiled which contained some very scary sounds. One of our school committee read a ghost story, while some of us teachers crawled around the seated students occasionally firing things into the middle of the group in an attempt to further increase the tension. We realised that we had gone too far when a couple of the younger students became upset with fright. Still, our head of department thought it had been a great success. Despite how upset they can get, Thai students do still seem to love ghost stories.

Despite our lack of sleep the students were still reluctant to retire early so it was well after mid-night before we got everyone to bed. One of my home-room students managed to fall on some glass, and my nursing experience meant that I was left to tend his wounds. Once the blood was cleaned there was only small cuts underneath, and so there was no need for hospital.

The next morning our head of department made the final departure from the schedule by declaring that we could all have a free morning before heading back to Lopburi in the afternoon. We went for a walk along the beach. At one point I found myself separated from the main group, and for my first waking moment in a couple of days I found myself completely alone. It felt odd. I made my way back along the beach and joined the Thai students and teachers who were queuing up to buy some plaa muck which is dried fish and a speciality in Rayong. My wife had made me promise that I would bring some back for her.

In the afternoon we all boarded our coaches and were ready to leave the resort. Once we got back to school I would begin two weeks holiday. I felt happy and remembered how much I had yearned for this moment on the day we had first arrived at the resort. My three days in hell were over; although now that it was over it didn’t seem so hellish. Thinking back it had actually been enjoyable for the most part. I felt relieved knowing that the responsibility for taking care of and entertaining all these kids would soon be over, but I also knew that in a strange way I would miss it. I also realised that come next year I would once again await this trip with dread.

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