Today was the first day of proper teacher training and I have finally gotten the hang of separating the Timorese into groups. I have tried many things and this one seems to work the fastest with the fewest hurt feelings.
In the first training of trainers I assumed that grouping was an instinctual skill set. And before I knew it I had caused a mess. I need to remember that everything is capacity.
We had a game which required the participants to be in two groups, not because they were competing, just because I needed them in a reasonable size for the exercise. What I did not know is that the Timorese really really reeeeeeaaaaalyyyy hate to lose. And I think it offends them when they are separated into teams without proper preparation. What if they end up on the losing team? So the first time when I tried to separate the teacher trainers into groups I forgot to say the word equal and I ended up with one group that had almost everybody in it and another group made up of the two teacher trainers that were asleep.
So I pulled a number from my old camp counselor days. I counted people off. 1 and 2, 1 and 2, I asked everyone to remember their number. They were with me, willing to see where this was going. Ones go to this side of the room twos over there. They walked and stood. The two groups studied each other and smiled. Okay that wasn’t so bad. Then several started to go back to their seats while I went to pick up the exercise. I was puzzled.
Tc: “ Wait! Where are you going?” Teacher Trainer: “We are going to our seats because the game is done.” Tc: “ What game?” Teacher trainer : “The one two game.”
A blood vessel blew in my head, but I didn’t let anyone see it. I was about to explain my point, when things got worse. I had made a huge mistake. I had singled out the people who had decided to go to their seats and asked them a direct question. There was a mocking laugh from a standing member of group number two, and then another. Soon the people who had sat down had bounced back to their feet. Several tried to rejoin the group they came from in a stealthy manner but the ones standing were having none of it.
“Ahhhh you always stupid person who sits! That was not the game!” yelled one of the standing participants at one of the ones trying to rejoin the group. Now the sitters began to defend themselves. “He did not say it was not the game!” “The White guy did not say it was not the game!” They were getting louder. My consultants, and Duarte, began to join in defending me with comments of their own. I grabbed the microphone and put on Pat Benatar banging it loudly on the side of a table. It startled the teacher trainers into silence. No one abuses microphones in Timor. I apologized to them all. I apologized to my consultants for not telling them about the game. I apologized to the teacher trainers for not giving them the information they needed. I apologized to the gentleman who hosted the hall we were in because he had run in to see what the ruckus was. And then I asked them to forgive me. They accepted my apology some with more grace than others.
“Oh he’s just a white guy he doesn’t know any better.” was the general consensus. Group one and group two stood, listened to the instructions of the exercise and then had a good time playing the game. But now I knew I had a problem. If I am in a culture that does not have a structured game component then it is unlikely there is a similar tradition of sportsmanlike conduct.
For the rest of the teacher trainer training I asked the consultants to separate the trainers into groups. It rubbed me raw, not being able to do it on my own, but I was not there to make teams I was there to help facilitate. And I just needed to get over myself. It worked too, after all we had already had the fight and the apology with these guys. They understood.
But then a new problem arose in this teacher training. It was large group, 48 in all. Some of the teachers in the group were well dressed and obviously urbane and some were from the farther districts. The district teachers dressed differently, spoke differently and had different ideas of when it was appropriate to speak during trainings. The consultants quickly put them in their place, often using harsh words.
This meant that by the time we got to a group game there was already some bad blood. Not only between participants but also with the consultants and teacher trainers we had brought in from the first training. Let’s talk classroom, and I’m going to need you all to put on your most open minded caps for this. It is appropriate, in Timor, for a person in charge of a classroom to single out a participant who is not acting in a proper manner and be disrespectful to them. Further, it is not inappropriate for other participants to laugh and jeer. Sometimes, not often, the person doing the castigating will turn this shaming into something of a show drawing it out and making it bigger if they get enough positive attention, and this is also not inappropriate.
It is, however, difficult to watch and be around. I have to calm myself and remind myself that I am not here to teach these grown men and women how to act. Just because my standards are different does not mean they are better. I am here to facilitate their learning of games. To get involved, with my unearned status, would upset what is a delicate balance of authority and control. Still I wish…
So we got to the first group exercise and the consultants started to split the participants up. One of the teacher trainers, from the first training, had performed a pretty spectacular humiliation earlier in the day on a teacher from the mountains. And when no one wanted to be on the humiliated teachers team it brought another round of jeering. They worked it out, but I needed a better way.
Shortly after lunch we had another group game. I asked the consultants if I could try something new. They always seem to be up for something new. So I stood up with my two tables prepared and began to yell.
“Everyone with a blue shirt over there!” four people scurried. “Everyone with brown shoes over there.” Eight people gone. “Everyone with a tie over there.” Ten more.
I kept this up. As the numbers dwindled it was easier to keep a count of how many people I needed and make smaller and smaller distinctions to make sure the numbers balanced. When it was just two people left over I yelled, “Everyone with eyes the color of coffee over there!” this brought a laugh. Everyone here has eyes the color of coffee.
My consultants are surprised that I always come out with an even number they are trying to see how the trick is done. But it is a quick and easy way to separate a people unused to being apart. You know, in case it comes up.