Friday, 27 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon Sheep in Kenya

Good morning world.

It's just after 9am and I'm sat at my desk with the usual enthralling and intense workload. This pretty high up teacher at the elementary school sits next to me at the Board of Education. She has been irritating Noah and I for the past year now. I've called her Katakana Sensei because her English is appalling and it sounds a bit like her name... how witty. Anyway, despite having the most abysmal English out of anyone I've ever known, she is somehow in charge of the elementary English curriculum. Recently she has taken it upon herself to steal some of our classes without actually discussing it with us. However, this does not stop her from asking us the most basic grammar and pronunciations questions in preparation for her classes. I treat these little exchanges with a little bit of contempt whilst Noah tries to explain to her politely. Even with two native speakers telling her the correct answers... she'll continue to try and skew things to make them easier for her. Here is an example:

Katakana Sensei: Noah... Kureigu... "Watto karaa izu diisu?"
Noah: It is red.
Katakana Sensei: Iitu... iitu... i...izu... re...? reddo?
Noah: Yes. It is red
Katakana Sensei: Japanese Can they just answer with the colour?
Noah: I suppose. Craig?
Me: Sure. Why not?
Katakana Sensei: Watto karaa izu diisu? Reddo! Reddo! Japanese Can they answer with 'Yes' and 'No'?
Noah: No, not really.
Katakana Sensei: (not listening) Watto karra izu dissu? Yesu Yesu No NO YESU YESU NO NO
Noah: Errr (polite Japanese) No. What do you think Craig?
Craig: No.

This is honestly the only time I would mock someone's English ability (considering how bad I am at Japanese) but she is just so bad. If she wasn't in charge of the curriculum and didn't interfere in my job as much then I wouldn't attack her either. However, this is the woman who will come up to me at lunchtime and start the conversation with "Good evening". This even confuses some of the 11 year old children I eat lunch with. Last week she was asking us the correct pronunciations of some animals:

Katakana Sensei: (without warning) shiaru... shi....aru.... shiaru
Noah: Seal
Me: Seal
Katakana Sensei: Hai Hai... ccc....cccciiiaru....ccc....shiaru.
Noah: Seal.... seeee...aaallll
Katakana Sensei: Shi....aru

I can understand how it is difficult for Japanese people to pronounce some words but there comes a point in a conversation where you can't do much else but say the world in the correct manner. Anyway, this morning we had another little discussion. She tried to pronounce 'sheep' with a heavy 'c' at the start despite the katakana for 'shi' actually being more appropriate. We tried to explain this but bizarrely she rejected her own katakana mindset and continued to say "ceeeepu ceeeeepu ceeeeepu."

What was to follow was even worse and pretty uncomfortable. She held up a picture of a young black girl and started saying "Kenya? Kenya?" At first I thought she was just asking about the pronunciation of the country and I was quite pleased because Kenya fits the katakana perfectly. Then I glanced up and saw what she was holding and was taken back a little bit. Then the whole office decided to join in. This included our annoying supervisor who thought he'd be helpful by just repeating whatever Katakana Sensei said. After a lovely few ignorant and borderline racist shouts of "Africa... Jamaica" they looked at us both and were like "So where's this black kid from then? Go on tell us." I was having none of this so I said that I didn't know and hoped they'd drop it. As it continued I wanted to be a bit more proactive about the situation but I didn't know what to do. I eventually tried to change the discussion by saying "Well, she could be American..." but it was over by that point.

Ironically, there is a Hollywood movie being filmed in Kochi right now. It stars Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon/Ghostbusters... apparently) and is called "The Harimaya Bridge". The writer had a previous film called Kuroi Hitsuji or Black Sheep which was about: "An African American ESL teacher in Japan contemplates returning home to the United States having grown weary of his mis-treatment by ignorant local people."

I'm not really suggesting that everyone in my office is a dirty racist but it was certainly an uncomfortable situation to be in. The bit at the end was just a weak link to let everyone know that Kochi is going to be on the world map soon. Woo Danny Glover.


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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.