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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

My First Day of School

Since our schools were centrally located, virtually all older students made the journey to the compound on foot from their homes. It was the younger students whom Uncle Ari'i transported to school using the council's vehicle. As I stepped outside my house to dispose of something, he spotted me.

"Mike! Ko tauroi? Are you ready?" he called out from his vehicle, known locally as a bwia.

Filled with nervous excitement, I replied, "Eang I tauraoi! Yes, I'm ready!"

Setting down his morning tea on the steps of the bwia, he informed me that he would be picking up the primary students. Intrigued, I asked how, unsure if there was a school bus on the island. "With the truck," he answered simply.

Accustomed to the traditional yellow school buses in America, with their rows of seats and swinging doors, I found it intriguing that Uncle Ari'i used a truck for transport. A few minutes later, he returned to the compound, his truck bed filled with students who greeted me with cheerful "Good Morning, Miss" in English as they passed by my house.

Confused by the term "Miss," I couldn't help but smile and wave back as they eagerly entered the compound, ready for another day of learning.

Before long, I heard three bells ringing in succession, signaling the beginning of morning assembly. In Kiribati culture, three holds significant importance as a lucky number. Many aspects of life revolve around this number, including the national motto, "Te Mauri, Te Raoi ao te Tabomoa" which translates to "Peace, Health, and Prosperity."

Unlike the American system where the first bell signals the start of the day, in Kiribati, the bells are rung in delayed successions. This initially confused me, as I promptly showed up at the sound of the first bell, only to find myself waiting alone, unsure of when school would actually begin.

The morning assembly that day focused on welcoming the students back from the break and introducing me to the school community. As the students settled into rows based on their classes, I noticed the head boys and girls positioned at the front.

However, I couldn't help but sense that my hairy legs were drawing some curious glances from the students. Blaming my Mexican heritage for the abundance of hair on my legs, I had grown accustomed to this attention, but it still amused me to see little hands reaching out to touch or pet me as I made my way through the rows.

As the classroom settled down for my introduction, several hands shot up into the air, accompanied by eager voices calling out, "Miss! Miss! Miss!" I assumed they were trying to get their teacher's attention, but to my surprise, every teacher quietly chuckled to themselves and directed their gaze towards me. It dawned on me that the students were actually trying to get my attention!

My head teacher, Julie, gently corrected the students' mistake, saying, "Atei... Atei, tiaki nei Miss, ten Sir! Children... children, he is not a miss. He is a sir!" It became apparent that most of the students had never encountered a male teacher before.

I couldn't help but sense the excitement in the air as I realized this would be a novel and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

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