The day that ALTs from all over Shiga come to chat and play games with our sixth graders, giving them a chance to meet people from a variety of nations and, hopefully, give them a chance to use their English in a social-setting. The kids spent several weeks making decorations and preparing little speeches and interviews for their guests, while Nanook took them through some small-talk conventions and discouraged them from yelling “BUTTS!” when there was a gap in the conversation.
As well as Nanook and I, the children were going to meet Prozac, Tank, Angel, Sailor and both Timbuktus.
The original Timbuktu was having a difficult English Day. Kin, as part of his long-term campaign of harassment, had recently decided to rename her. (Kin is actually quite fond of Timbuktu, but her anti-gay attitude infuriates him; in earlier semesters, they could talk reasonably about these things and for a while he had her converted, but since then he’s worked less at their shared school and she got a new homophobic preacher, so she’s unfortunately regressed. Q-tip, who attends the same church, has thankfully not picked up this attitude.)
“I’ve decided,” announced Kin, flinging an armload of sketches onto his desk, “From now on, I’m going to call you “Bigot”.”
Timbuktu, who is a gentle spirited person despite the inner nastiness encouraged by her church, cringed, certain she knew why, but still unable to resist asking.
“Well, with the new JETs here, we have two Timbuktus. Both of you are about the same height, so we can’t do “Big and Small Timbuktu”. You’re both from the U.S., so I can’t differentiate by nation. BUT, only one of you is a bigot! So, I can call you “Bigoted and Not-Bigoted Timbuktu, only yours turns into “Bigot” for short! It’s perfect!”
Deciding not to argue (in the interest of the illustrations he was currently producing for her) Timbuktu made her weary way to Nagahama Elementary, taking the chance to plead with me as we put up posters and stuck balloons on the wall.
“Can you do anything, Gem?”
“Nope.” I grinned a bit too, but compared to Kin’s, my grin is nothing. “We’ve got gay friends visiting again soon, and you’re going to embarrass everyone if you don’t get this out of your system.”
Timbuktu knows when she’s beaten, so she just set her shoulders and prepared for an afternoon’s chatter with dear little innocents.
…whose first question to her was “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“What?! No, I… Gem, what are you teaching them over here?”
“Don’t look at me,” I smirked, surrounded by my own little gang of journalists. “I haven’t taught these kids since February. Now, what were you asking me, Taro?”
“Where are you from?”
“Minna, shiteru! You know this! Where am I from?”
“Guys, come on, I taught you for almost a year. Kazoku ni atta! Where am I from?”
The kids shuffled a bit and whispered frantically to one another, while I glowered around the circle.
“Don’t say America! She gets really pissed off if you say America!”
“Where else is there?!”
The group searched their folders, rolled their eyes desperately around the room, then, noticing the last ALT they had spoken to, lit up with new confidence.
“The… The USA?”
“That’s America again!”
Over their protests that there WASN’T anywhere else, I only just heard Timbuktu snigger.
Prozac, meanwhile, was having his life-choices evaluated by three earnest-browed girls in cardigans.
“How old are you?”
“I’m twenty six years old.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, I don’t.”
“HOW old are you…?”
While Tim was wondering if she needed a stronger moisturizer.
“How old are you?”
“I’m twenty two.”
Deeply unhappy with the direction our lives were taking, the children fretted, tutted and advised us to change our ways.
Sailor’s group commiserated with her on her failure to find a husband (“Kids, I’m twenty eight!”) and wondered aloud if, at this age, she would ever manage to catch one. Mine expressed doubt as to whether my decrepit ovaries would ever be able to kickstart themselves when Kin and I finally decide to reproduce. Prozac’s desperate assurances that he just needed to meet the right person were met with skepticism so great it bordered on disdain. At our ages, the children felt, we were already halfway dead, yet none of us were doing anything worthwhile with the limited time left to us!
Basically, it was your typical, everyday conversation with twelve-year-olds. It was a relief when the interview section was completed and we moved on to activities. Each of us had prepared a game or dance, all of which went down well with the kids and we gradually got them to forget what miserable failures we all were as people. After collecting our autographs, the kids gave us each an origami crane covered in English messages and we all exited the gym.
Cheerful, despite a remaining trace of uncertainty regarding our life choices, we teachers retired to the meeting room to devour Pocky and minestrone-flavoured chips.
“It could be worse,” pointed out Tank, on his seventeenth stick. “Last week my second graders asked their teacher if his wife is cheating on him.”
“My third graders learned to say ‘SEX!’ from someone,” added Sailor. “And when they learn a new word, it’s all I hear.”
“Mine just learned how to say ‘Poop’,” confirmed a gloomy Tim.
“If only mine learned ANY English,” sighed Prozac. “My first graders spent our last lesson having a farting contest. The winner got to fart in anyone’s face.”
Pocky froze between packets and mouths as we all waited.
“I was too tall,” he added, and everyone relaxed again.
Aren’t children just a joy? Does anyone else work with the little darlings? What do yours come up with?
As ever, all drawings were produced by Kin. Don’t tell him I used these ones though, because he doesn’t like them much!