The other day I went to the post office to mail Christmas presents to my family. I thought it would be a fairly simple transaction but I made the mistake of asking the question of what the price and delivery time differences were between express and regular. And by question, I mean, one word at a time in Japanese with a vocal question mark. “Price?” (making the money sign, rubbing my fingers together – still not entirely sure if that’s a legitimate hand gesture in Japan) “How long?” (pointing at my wrist like a watch). Sometimes my life just seems like a giant game of charades. But my questions sent the post office into a frenzy. The clerk hurried around, looking for a book and uttering “America, America, America” like a crazy. Another came to the cash register and spent about 10 minutes trying to find it in the system. And another clerk came over to serve as a spectator and to occasionally gesture back at me. It was like we were battling; a gesture-off, if you will. It all eventually worked out.
Then just the other day, I received a notice in the mail from my internet company. Of course, it’s all in Japanese. So I took it to school and my wonderful co-worker told me that it was a bill and that I hadn’t paid my internet in the last two months and the deadline is tomorrow. You can imagine my horror at the possibility of having my internet cut off. I have also always been one of those people who is careful about paying bills on time. My co-worker explained to me how to pay the bill at the post office. You can do so much at the post offices and convenience stores here, just at their ATMs. I took the bill to the post office and put on my lost puppy face and a friendly clerk helped show me how to pay bills through the ATM. It’s magical. You just slide the bill in and there is a barcode that gets scanned and you insert your cash. Voila, paid. I was relieved to take care of that and I am sure the post office workers were relieved to learn that I wasn’t there to send any more packages.
My next hurdle is figuring out the hours at the post office. There are few things I hate more than receiving an “undeliverable package” notice (i.e., I wasn’t home to receive it) and spending the evening knowing that something wonderful from home is only a block away and I have to wait until the next day to receive it. But anyways, apparently you can’t pay for more than one bill at a time (?) at the ATM and have to pay more in the actual post office. And when I wanted to do that, they said that the post office doesn’t do bill transactions after 4, yet they are open until 5. I had a Mozambique moment where I felt exasperated by the whole system. I had so many tantrums/meltdowns at the bank in Monapo. I hate things that don’t make sense. And the clerk just laughed nervously as he explained it and then slowly stepped away while facing me, like I was a Grizzly bear he didn’t want to agitate. So I had to walk there today during my 45 minute lunch to do so. It takes 15 minutes to walk there from school so the whole thing ate up half an hour. Then I had to shove my lunch down and go to class. Needless to say, it was exhausting. Especially since there were hills involved with the walking.
I am teaching three classes of 10th graders this week and they are a lot of fun. There are 27 of them and it’s an oral communications class. Oral communications class = just have fun. I am totally down with that. Today we played the Lifeboat game, where you pretend like everyone has to get on a “lifeboat.” When I would shout “five people in a lifeboat!” students had to find four other people to link arms with to make their lifeboat. Whoever didn’t find four other people, died a terrible death and was out of the game. It got pretty rowdy with shouting and flailing on the floor. It was funny because the boys and the girls refuse to create lifeboats together until absolutely necessary. People were grabbing each other and trying to force them onto their lifeboat. Tomorrow, we are playing the “mustache game.” I made mustaches out of colorful origami paper and wrote the names of famous people or cartoons on them. Each student, without seeing the name of the person or cartoon, has their mustache taped on and has to ask everyone questions to find out who they are. It should be pretty ridiculous. Can’t wait. I did a similar game with the 11th graders and one student had a really hard time guessing Beyonce. My co-worker even sang part of a Beyonce song to him (complete with jazz hands) and he still couldn’t figure it out. Once he finally did, I ordered him to look her up on youtube. It’s always a sad day when someone doesn’t know who she is.
My adult English classes are going great. I have two groups: beginners and advanced. It’s fun sometimes to just sit there and chat. As the “teacher,” sometimes it takes a bit to keep the conversation running. Plus, if I don’t, then they will all sit and stare at me. Sometimes I feel like a nervous date who has written talking points down so I don’t run out of them or like Sarah Palin and her hand during interviews. My English groups have great senses of humor. I asked one student, a housewife and shop owner in her 60s, “what do you say when your husband doesn’t like your cooking?” She thought about it for a moment and then turned to me. “Shut up.” She’s the same one who had to finish the sentence “I am…” and she said “I am a beautiful madam.” I gave her applause for originality and sassiness. She also brought a catalog to my house today so I could look at heaters her shop sells. Anyone who can offer relief from the cold and a small shipping and handling fee is my new best friend.
One thing that has been irking me lately has been some of the students in the elementary school and their fascination with poking me in the stomach. Now, I’m no Barbie but I don’t have a ridiculously large stomach. Some of them seem to have taken to me like their personal Pillsbury dough girl and it’s driving me up the wall. I am just generally against random people touching me (borderline mild obsessive compulsive), so when I greet a student in the hall with a wave and they walk up behind me and grab at my stomach, I start to feel a little bitter. The next time it happens, I am going to give them a serious “stop it” in Japanese. Sometimes when class begins and I am greeting the students, the teacher has me shake every kid’s hand as I ask them how they are. I’d like to keep the colds or flus to a minimum this winter season and I haven’t counted out carrying a latex glove with me each time I visit. Or maybe whipping out a bottle of Purell after each handshake would send the right message.