The Red Book - Preschool

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

By the time we got settled in Saudi, I turned five. My sister was supposedly starting the third grade too, so we had to find a way to school ourselves. At first we took this quite literally. My sister requested a blackboard from my dad and some chalk and at the age of nine, she almost single-handedly taught me how to count, read and write and pretend sickness whenever I don't want to study anymore (a valuable skill later on in life).

It's an amazing feat but we weren't kidding anybody, a five year old can only learn so much from a nine year old.

Luckily, the Philippine Embassy finally instituted the creation of the Philippine Embassy School of Al-Khobar, a spin off of their branch in the Kingdom's capital Riyadh, which as I mentioned before was 400kms away from where we were. (commuting is always an option, but it's bound to be a bitch).

The school itself was almost a joke. Despite being accredited by the Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS), we were forced to study in a 9 room office complex no larger than the floor area of your average road hotel. The teachers were mostly volunteer housewives dotted with the occasional teachers who came to Saudi Arabia to follow her spouse. For our playroom we had a room filled with washed, used-up tires. What were the admin thinking? Even I knew. If ever we screwed up in life, we'd always know how to change tires for a living.

The school wasn't much, but it was still my very first school. Sure, nobody in our school knew the national anthem, or the national pledge, and we didn't really have any semblance of a canteen, or a school uniform, and our ragtag school anthem sounded like whoever wrote it wanted to run away with lyrics like "PESA, PESA, don't look back".

I wish I were kidding about this.

We had books, most of them came from the Philippines when my mom voluntarily went back to buy locally available books for our schooling. I got to live in an era where people were still generally confused regarding the alphabet. At school, we had to memorize a Tagalog alphabet, a new Filipino alphabet, and an English alphabet. The tagalog alphabet consisted of


while the new Filipino alphabet consisted of


No those aren't typos. We were forced to memorize RRs and LLs even though, as a kid, I can't find where I can apply those letters, that looked like other letters. It's amazing how, despite the fact that we've already standardized these letters as early as preWW2 under the quezon administration, we still didn't know jack shit on what alphabet we should take.

Or maybe it's also partly due to the fact that our teachers werent really teachers - but then again they were backed by our ever so scientific books that used words like Llannas and Arroceros (surnames) to justify the bastard letters that later I found out came from the Spanish alphabet.

As if it's not hard enough, we also had to memorize the arabic alphabet which further messed up our reading capabilities by asserting that the letter P and B are actually interchangable, which until today sometimes gets me confused. Son of a pitch!

Between learning the alphabet from our teachers and other nifty things how to say "I need to take a leak now" in arabic, I got to make new friends, both local and foreign. Why we had foreigner kids studying at a Philippine school in Saudi Arabia beats me. Here are some of the friends that I remember:

Rodney Aspra - A snooty kid who once put crayon so far up his nose, it took a long pincer and the collective effort of the entire faculty to remove it.

Mina - A jordanian boy who was probably the first foreign kid I got to know. One thing interesting that I remember is that he always had a perpetually surprised look on his face. I never really got to learn his surname until I got our yearbook six years later.

Maria Saudia Rodil - A girl who always had a hard time writing her name. Hell if my name was that elaborate, I'd get pissed at my parents too.

Sarita Langford - Probably the first real girl that made my widdle peepee feel funny. She was a half-british, half-filipina girl who I always hung out with because I felt like I wanted to be near her, and chance upon her panties, proving the fact that I've always been a closet maniac. Sarita was an innocent girl with a kind heart - just my kind of girl.

Carla Mizon - She entered our class later than most of us, and we've always found her weird because she was small and had deep set eyes, exactly what I used to imagine a fetus would look like. She was in the same carpool as me, and my sister always chided me that she had a crush on me, and I hated her for the rest of my childhood because of that. Girls liking guys? Eww.

In PESA, we had kindergarten, nursery, and preparatory - as God intended. But since kindergarten kids were taught lessons too advanced for kindergarten (I didn't really know we had pre-preparatory algebra or something), during graduation, prep and kinder levels were combined, so I ended up being only 2nd honor of our batch of 40 students. That was the first and last time I ever got into the top 3 honors in any level ever again.

During graduation, we were asked to speak in front of the audience and tell everybody what we wanted to become when we grew up. While most kids went for teacher, doctor, engineer, I figured I might as well go the distance and tell them what I really wanted.

I said to the crowd, I wanted to become an astronaut.

That day was also the first day I saw a standing ovation given to me. Or maybe I was the last kid to have to say his piece, and that really excited the crowds. Either way, the applause felt good and said to myself that I really have to make my promise go unbroken.

Many years later,one fine day, I ended up going to the Cape Canaveral base of NASA and got to touch a used rocket fuel tank that probably got far out of our atmosphere and near space.

That was probably as close as I could ever get to fulfilling the promise I made when I was six.

I guess it's okay to make big promises as long as nobody remembers long enough if you're able to follow through.

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