Despite being a teacher, at 21 I am still considered a child in Thailand. One of the first things Mrs Usana said to me when we first met was that she would treat me as if I were her own daughter.
From holding my hand to cross the road, cleaning my utensils before I eat, cutting my food up for me and ironing my clothes, Mrs Usana has been my Thai guardian angel, channelling Nanny Shirley circa 1998. Before the programme began, the British Council warned that our mentors may be over protective, with previous ETA’s lamenting that they were not allowed to go or do anything independently. Thankfully I have the best of both worlds. Somsri and Mrs Usana are encouraging of my desire to travel at the weekends, provided I don’t go solo.
After my first day at school, Somsri drove me to the apartment where I would live for the next two months. The emptiness and basic level of furnishing of the room that hosted only a bed, desk and wardrobe was alarming to my lack of preparation for living alone. My bathroom is minute, but I am fortunate enough to have a shower, something which a lot of ETA’s do not have and are forced to wash with a bucket. Admist my internal panic, Mrs Usana arrived and within five minuites my apartment was transformed. With fear of sounding cliche, my Thai mentors could not have done more for me. After school, Mrs Usana and Yuphin had gone to Tesco (which in Thailand is fittingly called Tesco Lotus) and bought me everything I could possibly need. From a portable cooker, a kettle, bed linen, cleaning products, toothbrush holder, a fan to even a food shop. Said food shop appeared to be as a result of a supermarket sweep as I unloaded it my fridge: 3 loaves of bread, 2 tubs of ice cream, a box of 40 eggs, bananas and a Thai-Polish ‘sausage ham’ hybrid.
Touched by the kindness of my Thai mums Somsri, Mrs Usana and Mrs Yuphin, and from tiredness at the sheer overwhelming nature of my first day at school, I found myself on the verge of tears. I refrained however for fear of my mentors mistaking my outburst for homesickness. Last year, the ETA that was placed at Watnongkhae left after two days, and I believe that part of the unrivalled efforts to make me feel so welcome in Nong Khae are an attempt to ensure that I don’t do the same.
As part of my contract, Watnongkhae are to provide me with lunch everyday that I am at school. Not liking rice or noodles has perplexed each and every single person I’ve met in Thailand as they are both staple foods of a Thai diet, and it is practically the law to eat rice with every meal. As the school canteen provide only a rice dish to students every day, Mrs Usana has been cooking me my lunch. In Bangkok I must have given her the impression that I was perpetually famished, implied by her constantly exclaiming ‘you get fat!’, as my first few lunches were colossal.
For dessert I’m often served whole pineapples, which I completely devour as they are so much sweeter than anything Sainsburys have to offer. If an abundance of tropical fruits are not on the menu, then I’ll be given this jelly concoction that looks like it’s come straight out of Nigella’s Feast.
Clearly fed up of stir frying me vegetables in egg, I walked into the office one lunchtime to find Mrs Usana had made me this for my lunch
With it’s grilled eyes and teeth glaring at me menacingly, I contemplated how to tackle the fish with only a spoon and a fork. Knives are unheard of for eating with in Thai cuisine and instead, one holds a fork in their left hand and a spoon in their right. The fork acts as a knife, used to tear food and shovel onto the spoon. Having just got comfortable with eating in such a manner, the fish proved to be the biggest challenge of the school day.