A Bigger School

The other day I reacquainted myself with fear. I was trying to cross a landslide. Shifting my weight on all four, like a rock-climber minus the harness and the ropes. I was hanging on to rocks that were moving. The incline was probably 20 degree short of being vertical. The slide was like a slow-moving waterfall. A waterfall of jagged shale and rock powder that could punch holes in my skin and leave my bones crushed like china. Some of the boulders were as big as a hippo’s ass. And they would start moving at a mere touch. The cake below the icing was that I was wearing slippers and they were, well, slipping, lubricated as they were with anxious sole sweat.

We were going to a village school. Li and I. Li was here from Outward Bound Singapore with a group of school kids. And we were going to fix up a ‘visit to the village school’ trip for them. We were walking on a hill track that connects the school to the road when we suddenly realised that it had been ‘flooded’ by a slide from above. A heavy earth-mover was making a road above and the slide had been a result of all the digging above. I haven’t felt so freaked out with fear in a long time and in retrospect I can say it was fun. We crossed the slide, not once but twice, once going (unsuccessfully) towards the school, and once returning from that halfway point of realisation. I thought we were going to become Jack and Jill that day with more than a broken crown and tumble.

Now I am more in awe of the hills. Because I have seen them move. I also know that ‘rock-solid’ is not tautology as rocks can be extremely liquid and flowy.

The slide set us thinking how going to school is an adventure in the hills. You never know when the road to the school would disappear. The other way to the school was a long trek over rolling stones and boulders and a fresh water stream. It was a government school, which mostly means that the school is very basic and barely functional.

But learning here is also something else. It means daily treks. And finding new routes to the same place. It also probably means walking another kilometre or so extra (which we did) on a new route. And brushing past shrubs. Hanging on to tree trunks and roots when it gets too steep. And sometimes getting wet while crossing a stream. And landing on cow dung. For city people like me this is a new way of learning. Because going to school isn’t as automatic as taking a bus and getting off at the school gates. In the hills I guess it is a larger learning experience. And conquering your basic fears is a big part of it.


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