Here I will attempt to speak of something unspeakable, to describe something indescribable, to eff something ineffable. I saw into the depths of horror itself two days ago, and only now have mustered the courage to force it into words. That may have been too dramatic. Judge for yourselves:
Out of our copious amount of free time and the goodwill of our hearts, my friend and I decided to hunt for volunteer work in this city. A month after baiting our line and casting out, we had a catch! On Tuesday, August 23rd, we visited a volunteer site where we learned we are going to use our political science, diplomacy, and academic research skills in a preschool whose twenty kids range from 6 months to 8 years old. An impossible task? Not yet. Our coordinator described the preschool as a nursery where the kids get a good education so they can be ready for government-run schools. A screaming den of anti-learning would have been closer to the mark.
“Is this hell?”
This was my first thought when we entered the preschool. Our goal for the day was to see how it was and identify areas for improvement. After observing it, however, it’s hard to imagine how it could get worse, barring natural, biological, or extraterrestrial disaster.
One ankle biter was stomping around the back of the classroom and uttering sounds like a maniac. Another child was asleep on his desk. The big eyed girl next to me, maybe four years old, was wearing a scandalous shirt that revealed half her chest and spent most of her time staring at me or at the pictures I drew for her in my notebook. Barely contained in their chairs, the rest of the children were squirming like my dog does when my family makes it wear sweaters. It was a picture of loosely controlled chaos.
“Oh God, no.”
Unfortunately, we had arrived just in time for English class. The instructor, Madonna, tepidly manned the front of the classroom, clearly holding back the fear of losing complete control over the children and alternatively sweet talking or threatening them. She thrust forward a red card and shouted, “Whatiszeecolor?” Or in English “What color is this?” And the children yelled, “Ahmarred!” Or in English “Red!” This traumatizing process was repeated for all the colors and other various words.
In a flash of unwitting innovation, all colors became compound Arabic-English words. Ahmar means red in Arabic, and thus fire trucks are “ahmarred,” chocolate is “bonniebrowen,” and cotton candy is “bambibink.” At the end of the session, I finally understood that success was measured not by possible ability to communicate with English speakers, but by the volume and speed with which one could shout the compound Arabic/English color.
“When will this end?”
I had shivers when I imagined how many times they’d performed this exercise, and I nearly vomited when I contemplated the idea it would never end. Though the poor pronunciation of the teacher and the clear lack of learning on the part of the pupils were both painful, the shouting was the most egregious offence. Unlike most “inside voice” classrooms I’ve attended, Madonna would demand the students say the compound color as loud as possible, until some of them were literally screaming “AHMARRED!” while others continued to shriek, gurgle, or chitter in personal monologues or side conversations.
“Please rescue me.”
As pleasant as children’s laughter is, a child’s scream is what is scientifically described as “unbearable.” My patience was rapidly wearing. The kids, despite the satisfaction some of them got from yelling, were just as eager as I to be released from this prison. Furthermore, the idea the pupils would soon be given whistles as a reward for their good screaming behavior was equally nausea inducing.
I wished to flutter out the window and be a sheet hanging on the rows of clotheslines I could see from my cell, since they at least lacked the ability to hear or feel intense hopelessness. Finally, after lunch when the kids were all given sugary suckers for God knows what reason, play time came and we decided we had seen enough and made our escape, the sound of screaming children following us from behind the door. At the very least, it will be hard to make the place worse. At best, the children won’t learn anything but we will have fun and not want to be sheets.