I am Piranpa. I will not spend the whole of my life in Central Australia. This is not my culture, I do not belong, I could never become Anangu and nor would I wish to be. I'm proud of who I am, my heritage, as potted a history as it is.
I've written about this in comments to people, but I thought it was probably time to write a post.
The thing about living in a remote Indigenous community is that you really won't know what it's like until you're here. There are negatives and there are positives, and how you view them depends an incredibly large amount on your own personality. What I experience is mine, filtered through my perceptions.
I find that Anangu are mostly very warm and welcoming to Piranpa, and, especially, teachers --- if not a little wary. And, to be honest, I'm wary of everyone too, so I don't blame anyone for taking their time to get to know me. At first I was starkly aware of just how different Anangu culture is, just how different I was, but over time I came to realise that there's more that's the same.
In the class there's me the teacher, the Anangu Education Worker, and eleven students, depending on the day (sometimes as little as three, sometimes as many as fifteen - with people going from one lands community to another.) The AEW who works with me with me is a lovely person, she's very sweet and she is excellent at getting the children to listen to me. It took a while to get her to understand she has to translate everything I say, because she had worked with older students before who already had strong English comprehension skills, but she mostly does now. I like working with her, the students adore her, our classroom is mostly a very happy place. Sometimes we get quite a few tears because there's been teasing and fighting - and let me tell you, there's nothing worse than a crying child, especially when you don't know why they're crying. The most harrowing thing is that after lunch it's just me in the class, since the AEW is studying herself. We don't get any learning done in that time. I'm usually lucky if I can come out of the experience alive.
One of the things that is often said is that there is "Piranpa way" and "Anangu way" and sometimes they co-exist peacefully, and sometimes they don't. As a very general rule, Anangu don't care about time. My life has been regulated down to every ticking second. I've spent only four and a half years of my life out of school of some sort, so I've had the concept of specific times drilled into me. Now we have three minutes of packing up, now we have forty minutes of Maths, now, now, now... that doesn't happen so much here. The siren goes and I'm lucky if I have two of my students within the first three minutes, it's a miracle if I have more than six out of eleven --- it makes school as I know it rather more difficult. It's hard to teach and start a lesson when you know half of your contingent is going to wander in through the door over the course of the hour. Our morning break is called kapati (from the English - cup of tea, and yes, that is my favourite thing ever), and children are allowed to go home. Sometimes I'm very lucky to get any students back at all. Later we have lunch, and the same applies.
A typical school day starts for me at 8.00. I've been known to go in much earlier, and once, 8.30 (running very late that time --- it was the day after my internet got connected. Ahah.) A sound that, I kid you not, is just like an air raid siren goes --- you can hear it in the far reaches of the community - and children know that they can come on school premises. We have daily sport from 8.30 to 9.15. At the moment there's no specific sport program running, so it's more like, "here, have a basketball/skipping rope and enjoy yourself." This can cause some problems, but unless you have Non Instruction Time or are on breakfast duty, all teachers have to be out supervising. At 9.15, the school provides breakfast. Teachers are the ones who have to make it. My day is Tuesday - a toast day. It seems to take forever, but I have to be honest, I rather enjoy it.
9.30 - 11.00 are morning classes, and then there's kapati, which goes for 30 mins. I use 9.30 - 11.00 as my Literacy block. In mainstream schools you're usually given 15 mins yard duty every day at different points, but here, because the students often go home, there's one teacher on duty for the whole of the schoolgrounds for the entire 30 min break. This sounds horrendous, but this system is so much better, because it means I only have 2 duties a week - kapati Monday and Friday, leaving me with 30 min kapati the other days, and 30 min lunch every day! This is amazing, since last year I was lucky if I got 8 mins to myself at recess and 8 mins again at lunch. 11.30-1.00 is the next block of classes, and this is where I do numeracy, science, health, etc. All of those other core curriculum areas. 1.00-1.30 is lunch. As I have said, 1.30-3.00 generally turns into playtime for my students. I'll set up some activities (and watch them not get used), sit down with individual students and read with them, sometimes take them out. I think it's becoming quite clear it's my least favourite time of the day. The students don't understand me, I don't understand the students, they're five years old and already tired and cranky.
The main problems we have up here are health and education, but they're contingent upon so many things and are often intertwined. There is no quick fix. The remoteness means that it's very difficult to get a whole range of fresh fruits and vegetables and because so few Anangu maintain a traditional food lifestyle, lack of nutrition is a contributing factor to all sorts of ailments. And of course, a lack of general wellbeing feeds into difficulties with education.
It may seem like all I am talking about is school, but that's because everything here revolves around the school. It's the hub of the community - the place that employs the most Anangu, the place that has the most Piranpa. The site of the culture clash. The reason Piranpa teachers are here is that Anangu know they need to learn English and certain types of etiquette in order to ever function in mainstream society --- and there is no way to maintain a traditional lifestyle here anymore, you need to know how to fill out forms, you need to be able to use internet banking - all of these things that I have, up until now, taken completely for granted. Anangu have a Governing Council who oversee the schools and what has to be done, and work with Piranpa to achieve that. AEWs can become Anangu teachers, who can have a class of their own, but it's a little upsetting how few Anangu teachers there actually are.
So, teaching here is certainly a different experience. A strengthening experience. I have my good days and my fucking horrible ones. But I think I like it. I mean, I like it more than I dislike it. Every day is a little battle won and sometimes that need to strive is an envigorating experience that makes me feel alive for the first time in my life.
*Anangu = literally 'people', but means the Indigenous people who live up here on the lands ('the lands' being this part of Central Australia.)
^Piranpa = Non-Indigenous people.