Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Weight Due to the Alpha Male


So, what on earth was I thinking when I put the symbols above on the blackboard today? Alpha and Omega? Because the term "alpha male" came up in one of the readings.

I found myself wanting to be sure my monks knew what these symbols looked like--and ( silly one that I am ) what they mean.

Sa, the youngest of my students, high school age, was reading from an article he had chosen. He chose an article from last week's Time magazine about Abraham Lincoln. At first I was skeptical ( they have to vet their topics with me before they can prepare to read ), not knowing why he wouldn't select something that was current about Southeast Asia. But, he seems very pleased with the article, so I let it go.

But today, when he read, I was amazed at the complexity of the language in this piece about Lincoln. The article was specifically about who he was, where he had come from--and all of the influences that either enhanced his political capital--or it diminished it.

Again, as I've written before, dear readers, there are times that all I can do to explain a western notion like alpha male is rely on lots and lots of words, examples--and hand gestures.

Today's class was smaller than usual because part of my students have exams this week which trumps English class for sure. And it's kind of nice. This group is beginning to tell me more about their country of origin, more about what they want to do when they are finished with university, more about their past.

For the second time since I've been teaching them, KimYi, a Cambodian from the province near Seim Reap, talked about being ten when the Khmer Rouge came to his village. This soft spoken, 41 year old man with the saddest eyes I've ever seen, told us today about that day. "The Khmer come to my village. They take the teacher out of the village and shoot. They take the monks and say to disrobe." Kim Yi pauses for a long while. "They refuse. They taken to woods. Shot."

I asked him about his family. "My brother fifteen years then. They take him to be soldier. He die." Kim Yi was ten years old when he witnessed all of this. After the Khmer killed anyone who was a threat in the village, they set up some local to take over. KimYi and the other children were brought to the center of town where the temple had been. The Khmer had destroyed it as one of their first acts of violence when they raided the village. The children lived there during the entire three year war. Kim Yi described the food--basically water flavored with small bits of rice which he and the others would eat after working in the fields all day. In the middle of the temple "orphanage" was the local Khmer and his family who in plain sight would eat large bowls of rice and fish.

See why it is so hard to try to seriously explain something so almost banal about western culture like "alpha male"? It seems so unimportant in light of the struggle of the past--and present -- of many here.

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