Day One of life in a Vietnamese school.
Today was purely an adventure. As I lay down now in the evening and let the day fully sink in I am filled with mixed emotions.
Excitement, confusion, and total mental and physical shock overwhelms me. Today was challenging to say the least but I go to bed having had one of the most eye-opening days in a very long time.
My every being craves more again tomorrow, the good, the bad, to be totally thrown into unknown territory until I have found my place in this terrifyingly magnificent city.
I woke up at 7am, frightened by my alarm as in the past few days I have been given the luxury of sleeping in until 9 in a sunless room. Groggily I washed my face and assessed my face in the mirror, what expression would I bear on returning? What will I have accomplished in the the hours to come?
Downstairs I forced down a famously pupil-dilating coffee and chatted with my team mates at the dining table. The other volunteers living at the Peace House are all varied in geographical origin but alike in our goal to contribute positively by using our skills to help children.
Nervously we discussed our wishes for the day and wondered if we had what it takes to make it through the next twenty four hours. We offered our predictions on what we would expect, what we were scared of, what we were excited for.
I dressed in a traditional(ish) white blouse and black pants, wanting to blend in as much as is possible for a 172cm Caucasian with red hair in an almost purely Asian community. Ready at 8am I farewelled my new friends, wishing them luck as Line and I set off on foot to our destination, a primary school a fifteen minute walk away from our dormitory in the central north-west of Vietnam's glittering northern jewel; Hanoi.
Stepping over uneven pavement blocks and politely greeting locals with a "Xin chau," we made our way through the increasingly busy streets. Line ('Lee-nah') is a lovely girl from Denmark and I am lucky to have been placed at the same school as her.
We congratulated each other excitedly every time we crossed the road unscathed, dodging mopeds and small cars tentatively until we reached safety on the other side of the narrow street.
Finally we arrived at the school, a beautiful and modern three level square building with a centre courtyard of red brick pavement and French colonial-inspired furnishings.
Joyful shouts and laughter emanated from the orange and white clad students already waiting for classes.
As Line and I squinted at our timetable and made our way up the stairs towards our scheduled classroom for our second period class, we noticed many children staring and pointing in shock and amusement. As more students poured through the hallways we were greeted with more excited murmuring and double-takes. Some of the more studious girls would introduce themselves and ask us questions, while the boys would either shout "Hallo" as they ran past to jostle boisterously with their friends.
We met with the teacher, who vaguely told us what was expected during the lesson. Finally we entered the classroom and were met with a unified chanting; "Goodmorning teacher" in accented English.
Smiling, we nervously took our place at the front of the classroom. The teacher instructed the children to take out their English text books. We were asked questions like "how old are you," "where are you from" and "do you have a boyfriend."
When it came time for the lesson to start, Line and I took turns reading excerpts from the English text, a simple lesson on talking about our favourite food and drink. Despite the repetitiveness, it was good to see the children's eagerness to learn.
The lesson was more or less the same, with some behavioural similarities in each class. Usually there were the quiet achievers, the class clowns towards the back being as disrupting as the teacher would allow, and the friendly groups of girls who would maintain as much eye contact with us as possible between giggling between themselves.
Following our first three lessons we made our way to a nearby cafe to relax during our three hour break. In Vietnam, children are expected to have a sleep during the middle of a normal school day. We were thankful for this as we relaxed in comfort, eating a celebratory ice cream and drinking coffee.
Back at school we watched as students set up for a special assembly, a tribute to Ho Chi Min combined with a celebration of Womens's Day. We were delighted, albeit nervous, to be invited up the front to sit with the teaching staff. We watched some singing and dancing routines and waited patiently through some speeches.
Afterward we moved up to our last lesson, which was our most challenging. As is the case with many eleven year olds, attention was on anything but us and the teacher after an exciting day and during the last period of the school day.
Frustratingly we found it difficult to speak loud enough to be listened to during this lesson. Eventually it was over and we were thankful to have our voices semi/intact from hours of it being raised.
Exhausted, we wandered home, stopping at a traditional tea house which was beautifully decorated with soft furnishings and enormous paper fans. Dodging the usual language barrier whilst ordering by using our newly squired survival vietnamese and implementing our best explanatory gesturing, we ordered a small fruit platter and some traditional tea of subtle sweet spices, dates and ginger root.
After a chat we left and dawdled back home, tired but curious to see how our other housemates had gone on their own adventures.
Thankfully the day is over, and yet I'm more than excited to do it all again tomorrow. I am enjoying the raw intensity of the children's willingness to learn, both exhausting and thrilling.
The children have such vibrant personalities and it will be interesting to see if I will learn to know all their names, although in classes of 35+ I think that will be difficult.
Sleeping as much as I can tonight, my throat is protesting all my instructional yelling.