I have been tasked with teaching the five smallest boys at the center – they’re too young as yet to fit into the first English class, which used to be Lowest and which is now Yellow or Blue Shirts.
The smallest of these, Mey Mey, has befriended me. His age is given out as seven, but this might be by Cambodian reckoning, which is different from both Korean and Western. (I don’t know if they count the prenatal year, but they definitely update on Lunar New Year.) And some of the kids have estimated ages or birthdays, although I don’t know if Mey Mey is one of these. So Mey Mey might be six or five – in American terms, he seems a tall four or thin five. He has one of those grave, husky voices some small kids have.
I taught Mey Mey alone on the first day of this third stint – the other kids went to Khmer school, but he stayed behind. We played word and phonics games. He’s still having trouble with b and d and p and g, so we practiced telling them apart and then practiced reading and saying words with all four consonants. And t. He can read letters and sound them out, but he cannot yet read words very well. (He recognizes a few, like “red” and “ten.”) So there was a lot of, “little p…little i…little g… (beat) …mep.”)
Since then, I have been Mey Mey’s friend. I was setting up a painting class for some older students on the rooftop story at the boys’ center, and Mey Mey came up and said, “Chah, you can play!” and then emptied a thousand-piece puzzle of Wrigley Field onto the tiles. Then he spent an hour trying to put it together, which he did by fitting pieces more or less at random. But each time he would go, “Oh! …No. Oh! …No. Oh! …No.” A big back section of the puzzle was taken up with skyscrapers – neither of us looked at the big picture – and so he tried to find all the diverse window pieces, grey and black and cream and blue blue blue, since the skyscrapers were drawn to be similar yet distinct. Then it was, “Window…window…window…I can see! Window…window…No….Window….Window! Chah, you can look!”