“Can you fucking keep fucking quiet please?” Our TESOL instructor, David, yells at us. Somehow, when I first saw him – round, red hair and gay – I thought he would be fun. He certainly thinks he is. He does things like smoke two cigarettes at once, “secretly” manipulates us, talks about how expensive his manicures are and asks us about our virginal status.
Some enjoy him more than others.
Janah left a few days ago. I spoke to my mom and we decided that instead of going back home to Port Elizabeth I’m going ahead with what Malini and I had planned to do, taking a Teaching English To Other Languages (TESOL) class so that we can travel and teach English next year. I want to take a year off from Psychology to go to South Korea.
The TESOL building is in Claremont, in Main Street, a busy area. The students are all foreign. They come from Angola, the DRC, Sudan, Ethiopia and places in Europe. Most want to improve their English so they can get a job in South Africa, others’ parents sent them over to learn English before starting school, while the rest want to improve their English and meet people while on holiday.
Every night we have to teach a lesson. I can’t really say if I’m enjoying it or not. Mostly it’s nice to get out of the house and learn something new. It means that there are a couple of hours every day that I don’t have to think about rape. I like meeting new people who don’t know about the rape and don’t have “rape eyes”. We talk about adventure and travel and grabbing life by the proverbial balls.
Our lecturer keeps on telling us that, while teaching, we should be a cross between “Barney and Hitler”. Five months after completing the course we will all receive an email stating that David is no longer associated with the TESOL institution in any way and that we are under no circumstances to send him money. None of us will be surprised.
I give Malini a lift home from class every evening as she doesn’t have a car. When we drive home the Thursday night of the first week of the two week course, she says something strange.
“Do you know what Kate said to me tonight?” Malini and Kate are two of the few non-smokers who stay in class while the rest of us go outside to puff. Kate is a “woe is me” punk girl with tattoos of parrots, a shaved head and a septum piercing.
“She said nothing bad has probably ever happened to you.”
“Because you look like one of those cheerful, happy people that nothing horrible ever happens to.”
I don’t know how to respond to this. I try to keep my eyes on the road as we drive past Newlands Stadium down Main Street. My hands smoothly change my gears. When I was thirteen years old I saved up to buy a cellphone. It actually looked like a telephone – bulky with a little antenna on the top right hand corner. It had two rubber covers, a luminous yellow one and a bright orange one, which I alternated. The first night I got my phone, I typed in messages to my best friend. We typed for hours, sharing our day since school ended (she did not do her homework), what our dreams were (to become Britney Spears) and talking about our feelings. She sent me a message to say her parents were fighting. My thumbs hesitated. And then they typed. About how much I hated my life. How much I hated myself. About how I once took a piece of broken glass and pressed it into my wrist until bright red drops popped out.
She didn’t reply. So I never mentioned it again. The next day we smiled and laughed.
“What did you say to her?”
“I told her she has no idea what she’s talking about.”
Malini opens the car door and gets out. I watch her walk across the pavement to her house, the street lamp settling on her soft curls.
At the TESOL classes I am surrounded by men. My body reacts strongly to them. I try to control it or ignore it but I can’t. It’s been two weeks since I was raped and I am in enclosed spaces with twenty or more men. I don’t always handle it well.
One evening, Malini and I are teaching a group class with Hoi, a Korean in his late teens, who loves teaching so much that he will even teach our lessons, and Bianca, a government travel agent who wants to use her TESOL certificate to travel to South Korea to find a husband.
Michael is a student who always arrives five minutes early for our class. Every day he wears the same red tie and an egg-coloured dress shirt that used to be white. He’s clean-shaven and his hair is neatly trimmed. He does his homework, never chats to others while we are teaching, and has insightful questions. We are all madly in-teacher-love with him.
I teach the class prepositions in my over-confident style. I have really taken to the position of power that comes with being called “Teacher”. To me, they might as well have been saying “Professor” or “Maestro” or, you know, “The Speaker of All Wisdom”.