It turns out today is a government holiday. The prince was born on Saturday, I think, so today is a holiday. Then the following 2 days are New Year’s—it coincides with Chinese New Year. They use the same lunar calendar here. Then the teachers report to school. I suppose then I can talk to the principal about C’s place in the dorms. I don’t think it will be too late. It makes me paranoid to leave things until the last minute like that, but plenty of Country X-ers do

I few things have happened this morning that reassured me. One of them is that I realized I have VP Ma’am’s help. At the end of the school year, I didn’t, because her husband had just died. She had her own problems and mostly she wasn’t here. I have been getting IT Ma’am’s help with the situation and at times that has been very useful. When I first spoke to C’s mom, IT Ma’am arranged that. She arranged for the games coordinator to help me with that conversation, because C’s mom speaks only limited English. The problem is that IT Ma’am is more personally involved. Or maybe she is just less mature.

She gets mad at C and takes an attitude of, “Well, screw her.”

I have asked about the question of C’s place in the dorms and registering for school generally. I don’t know how these things work. IT Ma’am said it is C’s responsibility. Ok but what if she didn’t do it? In between childminding and laundry and cooking three square meals a day and feeling perhaps ambivalent about the whole situation, it’s possible this slipped through the cracks. She says the class teacher takes care of this. The class teacher says “the school” will do it. The school will read my mind and do it for me? They have not been helpful. And IT Ma’am has this attitude that if C didn’t take care of her responsibilities, she perhaps doesn’t want to come. Or she doesn’t deserve to come.

There is this typical Country X attitude of helplessness about it. It is someone else’s job. If someone else doesn’t do that job, you can feel free to get angry and shout later but there is no concept that maybe you can just make sure the job gets done instead of complaining about it later. But VP Ma’am isn’t like that. She gets things done.

The other thing about Country X is that mostly things can be arranged. I get to The World’s Coldest City on the way to the Capital City, and there is no single room for me and I am not travelling with anyone. Well, someone gives up their single room for me or a friend is arranged for me to share with. Something is done. It’s not a problem. And then other times you come up against a stickler for details and absolutely nothing can be arranged. You are SOL. You were ten minutes late filing that form? Sorry. Try again next year. My lack of knowledge about procedures leaves me at the mercy of unknown sticklers.

So I am reassured I have competent help with the practical details I know nothing about. The kingdom will not get lost for the sake of a nail.

The other reassurance also comes from VP Ma’am. There are these vitally important pieces of paper that children must have in order to register at a new school. The old school creates this piece of paper and the parent is supposed to take it to the new school. For Class 8 children, all of them have them, because that is the last grade at our school. I have C’s school records, but not this paper. This paper is meant to be sent to the higher school. I didn’t know what had become of it. If it had been sent to the higher school, if the parents had taken it with them, or what. But she cannot register for any school anywhere in Country X without it.

C’s mom has asked VP Ma’am to send the papers for her two other daughters. Why they didn’t take the papers with them when they were here in January loading up their possessions, I have no idea. They live very close to the school. However, it means C’s paper is here.

It puts something in context for me, somehow. Something about the culture—like something sort of pops into place in my head that allows me to understand other interactions I have had with C’s family that had been ambiguous until now.

The thing is that I feel I have no real claim to C. She wanted to go to our high school. I thought that was a good idea too. I tried to help her with that. But I know it’s a risk for me and for the parents to take. It’s a risk for C to take. The parents have to consider whether C can behave herself away from their influence, and whether I will really be involved as much as I say I will be. C has to consider whether she is going to like my involvement. So the idea that they might say no at any point is not any kind of surprise to me, and to some extent I am right about that. Last week, Maths Sir (I can’t remember what I call him, but he teaches math and has an off-campus art club) asked me about the situation. I said I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything. I guess she’s coming. His response was it’s up to the parents. If they don’t want her to come, I can’t say anything. And that has been his response before. I don’t quite hold his view—I can always talk to them again—but basically he is right.

But VP Ma’am thinks it’s pretty shitty of C to change her mind and not come at the last minute. She also tells me C’s mom sounded like she felt very guilty about how C had spoken to me.

I think C’s mom doesn’t see it the way Maths Sir does. I think she feels obligated to send C to me at this point. I think she feels I really care about C, that I have actually done quite a lot for her, and the family owes me this kind of reciprocity. When the dad would not agree, she felt guilty, but couldn’t do anything. If the dad had not agreed, she would still be unable to do anything, but it seems as though he has. I don’t think C’s mom would have said she was sending C if he hadn’t. She would have had to be honest and confess that the dad will not agree.

I don’t know what transpired in their house that C was not already preparing to come here, or what she might have told them. Maybe she told them I had changed my mind. Nonetheless, it puts in context the way that C’s mom has behaved towards me when she was here, and makes me understand that although she is not always very responsible, she feels an obligation to me: it puts other things that IT Ma’am has told me into context also. She has said buy things for C ahead of time, or even lie and say you have bought them when you haven’t. Then they will feel they have to let her stay here. She has said show your real feelings for C in front of them. And I did these things, without believing the sense of obligation would really be generated.

It’s very different than Western culture, where one person makes a decision, and other people are free to make their decisions, and if you have over-extended yourself, that is your own fault.

When things make sense, it’s reassuring.




One thought on “Reassurance

  1. desilef February 8, 2016 / 9:54 pm

    It is amazing the way you’ve had to negotiate your way through this situation without the advantage of knowing any of the rules or how things are done. Your commitment to C opened up a whole world of complexity that other foreign teachers never have to deal with. You kept seeking a way through. You didn’t give up.

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