River of Fruit
Sometimes my fridge contains only an apple or two, but more often than not there are five, six, seven… or more. One day last week I counted 11 apples.
No, I am not particularly apple-obsessed, nor do I have episodes, that I’m aware of, of apple-buying while sleepwalking. What I do have is a spectacularly caring and generous community of teachers and students here in my town.
It started with summer classes, which I began teaching after two weeks at site. Admittedly it was exhausting, going from “zero” to three classes per day, and staying on top of the lesson planning for each class. But the students were so fabulous – focused, engaged, eager to be there – that it was terrifically rewarding from the start. And – they brought me fruit every day, starting on the very first day. Familiar fruits – mangoes, grapes, bananas, papayas, nectarines, pears. And unfamiliar - rambutan, dragon fruit, pomelo, snake fruit. And always, always, apples.
As the several weeks of summer classes came to a close, I thought “Well that was incredibly sweet and generous - I didn’t need to buy any fruit for weeks!”. During the 2 weeks of break that followed I got used to doing my own fruit shopping at the local market, eager to buy on my own some of the wonderful fruits I’d been introduced to. But following the break, when the regular school year started up, the “river of fruit” began to flow once again.
One of my primary teaching levels is grade 6 – and not a day has gone by since the first week of classes when a grade 6 student doesn’t hand me a carefully wrapped piece – or two, or more - of fruit at the start of class. I was impressed and not a little puzzled – a different student (or sometimes 2 or 3) brought me fruit each day – how did that work? It was a month or so into the year before one of my counterpart teachers admitted that she had announced to the students at the start of the year “Teacher Jessica loves fruit!” – and in response somehow the daily giving was organized.
Having a fridge full of apples doesn’t cure all ills (despite the “apple a day” adage), or prevent me from feeling exhausted or frustrated after a particularly challenging day. But it does serve as reminder of the warm welcome that people in my community have given me, and that the work I do is valued and appreciated by those around me.
I still don’t know exactly how the “fruit flow” is organized – how there’s never a day that I don’t receive fruit from 1, 2 or 3 different students – but that’s okay. It’s a kind of magic that’s part of the fabric of Myanmar – a caring and generosity that just seems to “happen” – though beneath the surface someone has put a real coordinating effort in. When I am feeling tired I can just look at the basket of fruit piled high on my table and be reminded of why I am here – and I open the fridge and grab an apple.