At 4:00am I hear my phone vibrate. A message appears: “Hi, my teacher. Are you ok? Can I get food?”
This message isn’t new. I get a similar one almost every morning. I want to turn over and go back to sleep, thinking, “Why can’t I solve problems in my time zone?” But it’s an urgent request. They are usually hesitant and embarrassed to ask for help, so I know they really do need food.
I had made a quick exit to the U.S. before airports closed down in efforts to contain the virus. Remote work and urgent requests like this don’t revolve around my desired office hours. For refugees, needs and suffering only intensify while the world seems to be at a standstill. I toss my pillow aside and start the process of getting this family the food they need.
We still have a small team in Cyprus that makes home deliveries. The lockdown is strict, and special permission from the government is needed to do this. Each of the OASIS staff members are responsible to communicate with the circle of people they have worked with throughout the year, making sure they have access to food.
It’s a huge undertaking to deliver more than 100 bags of food a week to the most needy, to the most vulnerable. I stay in contact with my English students, regularly checking in on them to see that they are ok.
English classes have a new look to them as interaction is limited to WhatsApp. Many students do not have reliable internet access, if they have any at all. My lower levels “speak” English with many more emojis than I’d like. I’m glad to see little hearts and hugging dogs pop up under the name of a student I miss dearly and am concerned about.
I know my middle level students are using Google translate to do their work. They think I’m not on to them, and I let it slide. And my upper level students are asking me to write explanations for complicated grammar points they’ve encountered on an English learning app. How can I explain the present perfect tense in a text message?
I find this remote teaching challenging and empty of the real life connection. Serious language learning is set aside while we capitalize on the relationships and community we’ve built over the past year.
Conversations revolve around feelings of isolation, fear of the virus, and the boredom and frustration of having children and spouses stuck at home in confined quarters. In between attempts at lessons, students reach out to each other, prayers are offered, and encouraging words are shared.
We realize that our strength and endurance is found in our faith and community, and we eagerly look forward to the day in which we can be together again. . . in the same time zone.
About the Author: Katherine is an IDEAS Associate who has lived and worked in Turkey for the past 18 years before recently relocating to Cyprus. Her background is in education, and she enjoys working with refugees. Enjoy other posts by Katherine, such as The Therapy of a Language Class.