It’s bizarre how quickly you can get used to something. It seems that this is especially true of working in schools. A few people have already said to me that it is common to feel fairly settled in a new school quite quickly. Although this shouldn’t in any way apply to me having never even worked in a school before, strangely, it does. Teachers everywhere treasure their holidays and rightly so. This means that there is very little prep time before the start of the school year and everyone simply has to hit the ground running although it feels more like sprinting. This means that the pace of work is fast, time flies but it feels like you are getting an awful lot done. We’ve had only 12 working days at school and yet it feels like we’ve been here for weeks.
I knew I had some transferable skills that would come in handy in my new job like managing the website for instance but actually it turns out that I am more suited to the work than I imagined I would be. Although my last job was working as part of a very small team most of my career has been spent in large matrix organisations with complex hierarchical structures where the chief skill is getting people to do things who don’t necessarily work for you. Schools are exactly like that. Even working in an agency has similarities. Parents are clients, teachers are colleagues and the education of students is the product. Having agency clients in all industries makes for a very varied working day. One minute I was working out how to upload 50 new species of shark to the ZSL website and the next minute I was looking at search engine optimisation for a company who tests fruit stickers for toxicity. Oddly my days at school are equally varied. One minute I am trawling through the 1,000 or so photos we just took of the entire staff and the next minute I’m having a meeting about an upcoming trip to Cambodia to look at a service learning opportunity involving building schools in remote parts of the country. Assuming my visa comes back on time, I will be going on that trip!
We’ve had a cleaner now for not even two weeks. She comes every week day for around 6 hours or so and does our shopping, washing and ironing and will eventually stay with Nell at our house when we go away. We know she is OK with this because that is what she did in her old job. Unfortunately she doesn’t cook as her husband is apparently a chef and works in a hotel here in Yangon. So, we straight up went and hired a cook! She has only been once so far and cooked us 2 meals (but 4 portions) with a salad which she leaves in the fridge. Both the meals were excellent. She will come once a week. Our cleaner costs $250 a month and the cook $100 a month. $250 a month is a little less than we were paying our dog walker to come and walk Nell every day when I worked in an office, so it’s kind of like hiring a dog walker who does everything else as well. When we visited Yangon back in January we were very surprised when our host family simply left the evening dinner dishes in the sink for the cleaner to deal with the next day. We did that on the very first day the cleaner came! How can this be the new normal?
This week I started Burmese language lessons. The teacher comes to our house and this week I had two 1 hour lessons. At a basic everyday level, the language seems quite simple. Basic sentence structure is simply noun, verb and then something called an ending particle of which there are 11 different kinds. So far I’ve learnt 10 of them although I can’t always remember them. The Burmese love to eat so it’s no surprise that my first verb is ‘eat’. ‘Pizza’ in Burmese is ‘Pizza’. So ‘I eat Pizza’ is simply, ‘Pizza sa (eat) deh (ending particle for statements).’ Context is everything in Burmese so if it’s clear who the subject is via for instance, a gesture, you don’t need to add it. Once you get a bit of vocab you can start making up simple sentences. My Burmese colleagues in the office find it very amusing that I want to learn Burmese but are being super helpful which is great. Having gone through the process of learning German in Austria I have a good idea of what the best way is for me to learn a language which is basically talking a lot (no surprise). I initially thought I might pay someone to have also have a conversation lesson but people here love to chat so that may not be necessary. It’s very early days but at the moment I am fairly confident I will be able to pick up a reasonable amount of the spoken language. I am a lot less confident about learning to read and write the script which seems pretty hard. I think it will also take me a while to be able to hear the tones. There are 4 different tones which change the meaning of a word. ‘La’ for instance means ‘month’, ‘hands’, it is the verb to come and it is the ending particle for yes/no questions. There are two guttural tones which cut the word short and then two softer versions and I can’t really hear the difference between them yet. However this was exactly the same for me learning German. In my office in Vienna there were two people called ‘Anna’. An English one and an Austrian one. The people in the office would call her and everyone knew who they were talking about except me. It was ages until I could hear the difference in the vowel sound of the letter ‘A’ even though it seems totally obvious to me now.
Anyway, despite the fact that we’ve been here for about 5 minutes, that we don’t have our shipment yet and hardly any furniture and that I can speak about two words of Burmese, I weirdly am starting to feel settled here. The photo I am using for this post is one of the first bits of blue sky that we’ve had and is the view from our balcony of the neighbour’s rather impressive house. The rain does seem to be lessening at the moment which is welcome although come March I’m sure we’ll be begging for it to come back.