Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Short Cut


                    My first appointment was to a school with only a brick building and  two other kajan thatched ones. It was situated deep into the forest which connected  it with the village by only a bus route and a bus which went twice a day;in the morning and the evening.  but many a times people find that the bus has broken down and those who want to go to the dispensary, weekly fair or to a government institute to get their work done have to trek that long journey along the dusty road which sent a swirl of dust, each time you raise your foot.
    As if to compensate the difficulties and dilemmas you undergo in that God forsaken place, the principal was a very understanding and a  kind hearted fellow.  He was in his early fifties with thinning hair and short and fat with a dark complexion.
          When  I went there  on the first day he welcomed me happily as he was without an English teacher for some time. I too, on the other hand , was a dreamy eyed teacher, armed with my new knowledge,  who was eager to impart all I learned at Pre-Service Training.  After handling official documents he  introduced me to the rest of the staff. As I could remember, there was only one male teacher and three or four female teachers who were all  unmarried.   
 Then the principal took me to a classroom with some students. but there was no teacher. He explained that the class teacher was on maternity leave and from then onwards I would be their class teacher.It was a grade two. I was somewhat consternated  but there was nothing I could do about it. I had come here  to teach these  students the most important English Language and the principal had given me this. To make matters worse, there was no black board for them. I had to teach them sinhala letters and words without a blackboard. It's like a game where you can't utter the word 'thirsty' when you speak about the water.

              The students gathered around me eagerly observing me and my dark purple  american Georgette saree. ( I still have it with me now!) There were around thirty five students in the class; malnourished, lethargic and under fed. but their smiles were warm and I felt that they were expecting something special from me . 

               The students sat on the rough concrete floor and there was only a wooden chair for the teacher. no desk or table.I introduced myself and asked their names. I exactly didn't know what to do. I was trained to teach the English Language but they had not prepared me for  a situation like this. My heart was racing and mind was thinking fast. I had to teach them something and the students were eyeing me curiously.O.K.What the heck, I thought.
                                           Then I asked them to bring their exercise books and began writing the word "samanalaya" (butterfly) in each book  and asked them to complete the page with the word. After writing in around twenty books my back began to ache as it was an uncomfortable posture without a table to lean on to. I straightened up and looked around . countless number of tiny hands were offering me their books for me to write that sacred word in them. Some were pushing to come to the front and I heard cries of "anei , paganna epa. " ("don't tread on please"!)

                   They were pushing me too. I felt a nudge and when I turned around, I saw a little boy has crept under chair to come close to me. He was almost sitting on my lap. I stopped my writing and gave them a look. I met their expectant gazes.

 I told them as calmly as possible, though I was very tired and uncomfortable,  "Now children, I am going to write the word in each of your books. So don't push each other. Go back to where you sit, and come one by one as good children. "

                 I waited.They didn't budge.I waited more. Reluctantly, one girl went to her place and sat with her book on the lap. She called her friend. Then one by one all the students went back to their space on the concrete floor. I took a deep breath. I just sat there indicating I needed a short break from writing. I was not allowed to wallow in my pleasure,  as one brave student came with the book and showing asked me " teacher, mehema livvama haridha" ?  Then another one came, and another. Again they were asking me numerous questions with regard to their writing, mostly the questions to which they very well knew the answers. I was getting angry as I was not composed and collected and didn't know what to do with these bunch of kids who expected some magic from this young, new teacher! 

            The other teachers may have witnessed this incident. One of them came and took charge of my young wards. Another took me to their room. It was a part of the school building.  She opened a thermos flask and poured me a cup of tea. I was grateful for her kind act and gratefully accepted it. but as soon as I sipped the tea, my thirst vanished totally. It was unpleasant and  an oily layer was floating on the surface of the drink. I swallowed it with much difficulty and finished it quickly. It was the sort of water you drink in those remote areas. You could never think how happy I was to drink a glass of cool, refreshing water at one gulp while little drops were falling along wetting  my neck line.

                    She asked me to take things slowly and not to bother about students so much as there was very little one could do.The majority got absent in the harvesting season and rainy season; former to help their parents and latter due to flooding of the roads. 

                  That was how my first day at school was spent  and the bell ran indicating that the  school was over. Oh, my, what a relief! Now time to go home. My father took me to school in the morning but I had to take the bus for return journey. Unluckily for me, there was no bus for the return journey and  those who travelled in the bus had to walk or find other options to reach their destinations.

                    Principal was concerned about my going home and asked two senior students to guide me to my home as they both were going in my direction. I was cold with sweat. I had never walked such distance and it was not easy for me to walk at all, as my new high heels were cutting my flesh like hell.

             but some things were inevitable and this was one such moment. There was no other alternative. So with a chilling heart, I started the journey.The principal advised the students to take me safely home.They were leading and I followed them. We were walking on  the bus road which was dusty as it was not tarred yet. after walking for some time I saw that the bottom edge of my new saree was fully covered with dust. and it had turned totally brown. The students too noticed it and when I stayed to rest for a while they suggested to take a short cut.I was doubtful at first but they were persistent, telling me that ' it was very short' when compared to this dusty gravel road where you tend to falter walking on gravel. I was reluctant at first but again there was no other alternative. My left foot had become reddish and each step was hurting like hell. I wanted to run home and remove this bloody shoes at once. 

                 So, when we came to the fork of the road, my two guides took the left turn which was the short cut, and I went behind them meekly clutching my hand bag, and giving more weight to my right foot. It was only a narrow foot path.No two people could walk abreast.  The thorny bushes and shrubs grew at the edges of the path, entangled in my hair, saree and back scratching me and sometimes creating red patches in my hands and nape. The walk was very uncomfortable. I had to twist and avoid the twigs and branches on the path and I couldn't walk straight. It seemed that my two guides were well accustomed to this daily walk and they just held and avoided the branches and twigs with an easy manner.   

 Then there was a mud hole in the path,and without knowing, I fell into it. A sharp pain spread through my body.involuntarily I sat on the edge of the foot path on the long grass. The pain was unbearable and I was twisting and wreathing with pain. Meanwhile the two boys were watching me helplessly as they couldn't decide what to do.

                My ankle was bruised. The two boys were helpless and they stared at their new teacher who was in great pain. Then one of the students  picked some leaves, chewed and kept it in the wound and I gave my handkerchief to wrap around it.but it was not enough to go around and I had to tear a strip of cloth from my new underskirt.  After bandaging the wound, I just sat there for the pain to subside, then got up and began to walk slowly.But it was impossible to walk as my both feet were hurting a lot.

                    I declared bitterly that I couldn't walk.The two boys were scared and exchanged fearful glances.As this was a short cut, very few people used to take it and the boys suggested to wait for some time before one of them going to village asking for help. They asked me to remove my shoes and meekly I obeyed them.Then one of them helped me to sit on the grass. 

              We waited. During that time, I had time to think about my teaching career. I understood with regret, that It was not  the beautiful dream I had  when I was schooling. It was more deep and humane and you should be a part of it and feel what your students feeling and experiencing in their day-to-day lives.

                          Even, when my subconscious mind was handling my thoughts, I heard a distant, but approaching sound of  creaky pedals. The two students who sat with fallen faces got up and disappeared into the woods and I waited, not knowing what to expect after this upside down events happening to me. 

                         Finally, help arrived but in the disguise of an  old bicycle.The villager was running an errand and had thought of taking the short cut to reach his destination quickly. He was aghast when he listened to the halting narrative of two scouts. He offered his humble services to the "iskole nona' and apologised for the condition of his bicycle. On the other hand, I visualised him as a Greek God, who came to the rescue of a young princess. (It was me!) I was thrilled to the core.Apart from the humiliation of pushed by three males, I sat on the rickety bike and was ridden home to the amusement of my sisters and the concerned look of my father.  
                So, finally with disheveled hair, a dusty and torn saree and a half missing underskirt I ended my first day in the school.                                                                                                                 


  1. ඔයාගේ භාෂා අලංකරණ සහ යෙදුම් ඉතාම ඉහළින් තියෙනවා.. මෙවැනි ලිපි වලට මහා ගොඩක් කමෙන්ට් වැටෙන එකක් නැහැ..ඒත් ඔයා ලියන්න මෙවැනි ලිපි මාසෙකට එකක් වත්...

    \\\\\\\who came to the rescue of a young princess. \\

    බොරු කියන්නේ මොකටද අපිටත් ඉංග්‍රීසි මැඩම්ව පෙනුණේ ඔහොමනෙ.. මන් පාසල් කාලය තුල ඉංග්‍රීසි මැඩම්ලා 3 දෙනෙකුට විතර ආදරේ කරලා තියෙනවා... 7 වසරේදී ආදරේ කලේ එහා පන්තියේ මැඩම්ට .. එතකොට එයාටත් 27 වගේ වෙන්න ඇති.. ( දැන් තමයි වයස ගැන වැටහීමක් තියෙන්නේ එයාගේ.. :P )

    ඔයාට ගැළපෙනම තව බ්ලොග් එකක් තියෙනවා.. ඔයාට හොඳ යාලුවෙක් වේවි මෙන්න මෙයා  Mystica .... දිගටම මේ ජාතියේ ලිපි ලියන්න... කට්ටිය වැඩිය කමෙන්ට් වැටෙන එකක් නැහැ... ඒත් ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් ලියන එක නවත්තන්න එපා....

    ඉතින් කියන්නකෝ පලවෙනි දවසෙ ගෙදර ගියායින් පස්සේ වුණු දේවල් ටික...

    1. බොරු කියන්නෙ මොකටද? කමෙන්ට්ස් ගොඩක් ලැබෙනව නම් කැමතියි. ඒත් එහෙම නැතත්, මගෙ හිතේ හිරවෙලා තියෙන දේවල් ප්‍රකාශ කරන්න තමයි බ්ලොග් එකක් ලියන්න හිතුවෙ. ඔබේ කමෙන්ට්ස්වලින් මගෙ ලිවීම ගැන මගෙ හිතේ තියෙන විස්වාසය වැඩි වෙනවා. බොහොමත්ම ස්තූතියි.

      ඊට පස්සෙ ඉතින් මොනවද වුනේ. සාරිය පිටින්ම ඇඳට වැ‍ටුනා. තාත්තා තුවාලෙට බේත් දැම්මා. උලුක්කුවට තෙල් ගෑවා. දවස් තුනක් නිවාඩු. ඒ ඉස්කෝලෙ ගැන තව හරි ඉන්ටරෙස්ටින් කතාවක් තියෙනවා. ඒකත් ඉක්මනට දාන්නම්.

  2. OMG! What a story! What do you think about that day when you look back today? Totally different perspective I hope.

    And you were able to go home from that place after school. When we did the difficult area service we were hundreds of kilometers from home and on the other end of the country.

    1. No one knows the difficulty to teach in a rural area in English medium, Other than another English teacher !!

    2. Absolutely! Thanks for the encouraging words Sam. And the fact that your father also is a teacher gives this an added meaning.

    3. Yes. Dude, What an experience! That day, my dreams were shattered and I was totally frustrated with my teaching career. At the Training College, our minds were filled with how to and what to teach,but we were not made aware of the situation in the schools or problems we have to face when teaching English.
      but, now, when thinking back of those challenging days, I think they made me more strong to face such situations and when I moved to another school after six months, (the principal took me. ) I knew how to cope with those students, and I was more confident to face challenges in that school.
      Now, When I reflected my teaching in those days, I feel that you should work in a remote area school, if you want to be a good teacher. There you gain a glimpse of what students going through in their lives and we have to consider all those things in teaching.Before becoming a teacher, you should be a good listener, and you have to change your methods of teaching dramatically sometimes.I don't know whether I succeeded with my first lot of students but after that I can definitely say, I succeeded to a certain extent.I am very strict when it comes to teaching, but at the same time become friendly with them and students like me a lot.

  3. hmmmm usually Sri lankan talented english teacher's are only working in towns. because english has no right's to get in to villagers mouth. it's a very posh language only people who can spend hell lot of money they own english that's what most sri lankan teachers are thinking. but i really appreciate you. for the time you spend in that school and the knowledge you pass to them in this kind of time we can consider that as a social work rather than a job.

    1. Thanks korale mahaththaya for your understanding. Yes. English is a priviledge for some people and it's very difficult to teach English to students in remote areas. First, you have to create an interest in them, and then only you can begin teaching English.Sometimes I had to teach alphabet to A/L students!

  4. //but as soon as I sipped the tea, my thirst vanished totally. It was unpleasant and an oily layer was floating on the surface of the drink. I swallowed it with much difficulty and finished it quickly.//

    Truly, some treatments comes with kind embarrassments, But when they treat you in kind hearted, it tastes much more even you used to drink mud water :)

    My father worked at a rural area in Anuradhapura, when he got first appointment as a teacher. Ur story reminded me his group photo which has taken with his staff; As he says those memories are keeping them strong to work at tough situations.

    appreciate what you have done to the society as a teacher !!

    1. Your father must have told you his experiences there.Yes. Only those who serve in a difficult area school knows what one has to undergo. Actually, I longed for a fresh cup of tea I used to have at home, when I worked in my first school.Every day I had to drink that tea with a peculiar taste, but couldn't refuse it as it would hurt the feelings of the teacher who prepared tea for us.

  5. Hi! I missed reading your thoughts! What an ordeal you had to go through. I can imagine the pain you felt on your feet wearing those shoes. I feel sorry for the kids. It must be tough growing up uncomfortably. I feel your good heart, it is too risky though to go there everyday and miss the bus. I used to teach too but gave it up when I had a more stable job. Have a great week!

    1. Welcome back! Actually, the children suffer a lot and they are not in a position to absorb what we pour into their minds without considering their mentality.

  6. Is it a tragedy? What did you feel about it as a human? I like to hear it

    1. Yes. It is a tragedy. The whole education system is not suitable for the majority of the students in our schools. Apart form a few good schools in Colombo and suburbs, the rest of the schools have no mechanism to help the slow learners and the other students who face problems in understanding subject matter. The teachers face a dillema, as they are given a lenghty syllubus and forced to complete it within the year. They are inspected by the Officials in the Education Offices and if you are found behind your schedule of the year plan,(if you have just finished only three units of a book, when you have to finish five) it is considered as an incompetency of the teacher.What they want is quantitative education not qualitative education.

      So the teachers rush through the text books, and those who attend extra classes will understand the lessons and others who are unable will fall behind.

  7. First of all let me apologize for not being able to read your blog. I knew you read mine. It's my fault not gone through your profile and find your's.

    This is very touching story when both parties are concerned. What I think is, this is a fault of our education system. It should be person oriented rather than syllabus oriented to be precise. My kid is following international curriculum. They impart maximum on English. But they just give general reading and writing skills for sinhala. Likewise our system also need a change. It's only necessary for them to read and understand plus writing up to some extent. In real life they always doesn't need to write essays nor deliver speeches in English but filling some forms and communicate with a foreigner.
    Our administration did not get this and try put harder stuff on them. For any language, if you don't have day to day use,whatever you learned is drained.
    Your effort worth great appreciation.

  8. It's o.k. I don't know whether I was able to do something useful with those students, but I tried my best. More than a teacher I became a listener and tried to take a glimpse of their real life thus enabling me to become closer to them. They were honest and we almost became friends during my short stay there. (I taught there for only five months. The officials plucked me and put me to another school telling I was excess).

  9. Like Sudeeka above, I too vehemently apologise for not reading your blog while knowing that you are reading mine with interest. Today I followed your link back and read this post. I am not flattering you, but this is remarkable writing. I wish I could write like this. Your use of language is very interesting and and if you have already not taken into writing a novel, it is high time that you start doing so.
    I myself started as an English teacher no sooner I left school. But, where I taught was far worse than what you describe here. At least you had buses coming to the village. We did not even have a motorable road to the school then and the only modes of transportation to traverse the distance of four kilometers from main road to the school were either bicycle or by foot.
    During the last Christmas holidays, I visited this same school after almost eighteen years and things have drastically changed over the years. I was able to travel by car to the school on a very good road. Though I did not meet any student to whom I taught back then, it brought me thoughts of nostalgia.
    However, I still believe that teaching is the best profession in the world. I would definitely go back to it if I could change my past now !

    1. Fist of all welcome to my blog. I am happy that you have become a follower of my blog.
      Glad to know that u have been an English teacher. I think it helps immensely with our writing and translations.Actually I am highly flattered and very happy to read your comment.I think that is the force which pushes us forward to write more and more. Though I write in English, I have written a very few articles in my own language. What I like most is translating things from English to Sinhala. but I have found it too difficult than writing in English.

      That is why I admire your Sinhala translations. They are superb and highly accurate.

    2. While thank you for admiring my translations, I would like to say something about your translations. They are fine and accurate but the language does not seem to flow. I think you know what I mean. Firstly, as my experience has taught me, your vocabulary needs to be diverse. In your translations always try to use words that are not purely Sanskrit but derivations e.g. Chandra vs Sanda. Always use synonyms e.g. for He, you can use ඔහු, හෙතෙම, හේ and for she ඇය, ඈ, ඕ, etc. Change the syntax at each sentence. For e.g. do not end a sentence always with the same form like විය, විය, විය. You can use විය, වූයේය etc. And always remember the Sinhala sentence begins where the English sentence ends. Another piece of advice: though they are simple and appealing to the masses, it is advisable to refrain from translating those small ghost stories etc. Start with classics and then move to simple stuff because the language of the classics is more rich and you can play within it quite comfortably. I don't intend to be patronizing. These are sincere thoughts. Thank you and good luck with your translations.

  10. Dear Mercy Miss,

    I am not a good fan of FB. But today I wanted to clear my all unread messages and got toknow about you.

    This is Hector , Jayama's husband.

    The Short cut is very interseting. It took me to a differnt world. Actualy it reminded me Jayamas fisrtdays of school teaching carrier. Though the pain is too much, those are the only pleasent meories we have in our life forever.

    And you writing is so amazing, You touch peoples hearts. Continue this kind of work, that will heel most people. It made me to come back and entertainn the old pain.
    I will let today Jayama know this.

    She also in the FB. you can find her just type Jayama

    When you write new article please let me know.
    Kind Regards


  11. Thank you for the comment and it is nice to know that you have taken the trouble to drop in to my blog. I welcome you gladly to my blog.

    I wanted to contact Jayama and say hello to her but couldn't find her in FB. That's why I tried you and your profile was there.Ask her to visit my blog if she has time.
    What are you doing now and where are you working? Give my kind regards to Jaya and sons. my email -


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