Old Man S’TO spoke to the gathered students and told them that education was important and would make them richer than they were. He admonished them to do as Marina and Sabrina told them because they had been Educated-In-A-Convent-By-Nuns. He puffed out his chest when he mentioned the convent and gave the students the impression that the nuns would be displeased with students if they didn’t learn.
Marina commented to her sister, “The nuns would beat them if they didn’t learn, but we won’t do that.” In the still air this quiet comment carried to the furthest child who clung to his mother’s leg as his eyes grew big and round.
Marina and Sabrina had worried all night over what to do on their first day of school. They tried to remember everything they’d seen or heard at the convent. They had no idea why the nuns did what they did but decided they would do the same things in their school. First, Marina started by suggesting they sing a song.
“We came here to learn to read.” Kam’s wife shouted back at Marina.
Sabrina thought quickly. “The nuns used songs to teach the children to read. They even had a whole alphabet song, and we will use songs to make certain you pronounce each letter correctly. Sabrina imagined herself sounding like Sister Mary Ruth and did indeed sound stern and authoritative.
Papa S’TO sat behind his daughters grinning and nodding his head sagely.
The adults cast disapproving looks at Kam’s wife and sang the song Marina started. Next, they learned that their children didn’t know the old folk tune.
Marina still felt angry with Kam’s wife, so she thought she’d get back at her. “When we learn a song, first we need to learn the tune, then the words. We will sing the tune to the letter A.” The adults helped their children sing the tune while singing the letter A.
When the sun reached close to midday, Papa S’TO went home to help his wife coddle their grandchildren. He chuckled and sang all the way home. His school would be a success.
Marina and Sabrina continued valiantly to teach their students the little that they themselves knew. Their father had taught them to make charcoal for making markings on his pottery, so they spent much of the rest of the day teaching their class how to hold the charcoal sticks they’d made the night before. Mostly, the students broke the sticks, so as the morning progressed, the number of charcoal pieces grew so everybody could have one.
The first day went well enough as each child and their parents used their piece of charcoal to write the letter A on the flat rock they sat on for their school.
Marina and Sabrina survived this day, but were well aware that the alphabet had only twenty letters and there were only ten numbers. They prayed, “Please God, make the students lose interest by the end of the month.”
The end of the month came and went. The students had learned twenty songs each sung with a different letter. They’d learned their numbers and began to figure out on their own what the numbers implied.
The second month of school brought more students. The harvest was over in the higher valleys, so whole families came to school together and camped out at night near the flat rock. Occasionally the sound of them singing a song with a letter of the alphabet drifted on the evening air up to the S’TO house. Marina and Sabrina would look at each other and shudder.
Further down the hill, Old Man S’TO would puff out his chest knowing he was the most important man in the valley because he brought Education to their small community. He knew their storerooms were filled with rice, beans and barley the students used to pay for the school. One family paid for their schooling with honey. What a treat!
Marina and Sabrina survived the addition of more students by having their first students help the latecomers learn what they’d already been taught. They were delighted and praised God when they discovered that many of the older students had forgotten some of the letters and needed to relearn them. They rejoiced at the prospect of teaching the same things over and over to the same students.
Meanwhile, they taught the older students to write their names. Sabrina and Marina didn’t know that the local language they spoke wasn’t written down. They knew the language the nuns taught at the convent was written, so as they taught their students to write their names, they made up the spellings from the little they knew of phonics.
After seven weeks of teaching, Marina and Sabrina were exhausted with trying to teach and their own constant fear of failure and performing their duties at home. Hau and Rue became grumpy because their wives were always too tired. The S’TO house began to stink. Much to the whole family’s relief, the rains came. School on the open rock was cancelled and Marina and Sabrina prayed for an especially long rainy season.