At Koh Tao school in Mae Hat, 28 year old school teacher Alistra plays turtles with her school children.
She clasps one hand on top of the other and wiggles her fingers.
The kids copy her, their eyes moving from Alistra’s hands to their own. Then a sea of turtle-hands swim away and laughter fills the sandy schoolyard.
It’s Thursday afternoon and every week at this time there are Scout activities after school for the kids aged 7 to 13. The school uniform changes each day - and on Thursdays every child dresses as a Scout. Monday, the uniform is yellow because it’s the King’s favourite colour and it connects with the moon; Tuesday is pink, the Queen’s favourite colour.
'I love the kids,’ Alistra says, ‘they are more innocent than the kids in the city. Here on the island, we don’t have truancy because there are no malls or movies to hide in during the day.’
Alistra has a playfulness about her – she practises dance moves in the staff room and has a cheeky smile.
So when Alistra tells me she was left by her mother at 3 months and soon after her father couldn’t cope with her, it takes me a few moments to adjust gear. Alistra went to live with her aunt in Chumphon at 3 months old.
‘We were very poor but my aunt worked hard to save enough money to send me to university,’ Alistra says.
Alistra gained a teaching degree at Bangkok University after 4 years of study.
And now I can look after myself,’ she says, with a firm nod of her head.
Alistra also enjoys writing. She has written about occasions such as the King’s birthday. She likes to write short stories with a twist at the end. And at university she wrote love stories.
‘What I love about writing is to describe details and also to see what falls out of the pen without thinking about it,’ Alistra says. She shows me one poem with a line referring to a mysterious ‘man of the year, even just for me.’ Alistra smiles at this – clearly there’s a story behind this line that’s none of my business.
‘What do you most love about life on Koh Tao?’ I ask.
‘It’s an easy life on Koh Tao – there’s no hurry. There’s no traffic or pollution like in Bangkok. And only a few thousand permanent residents.’
Later that evening, Alistra comes out dancing with me and the other volunteer English teachers. She teaches me at least 3 new dance moves, which doubles my repertoire on the dancefloor. I love Alistra’s zest for life, it’s impossible not to catch it from her.
And the kids at Koh Tao school? Well, my attempts to teach them English were received with lots of giggles – but they seemed to like me nonetheless.
‘Teacher, teacher, teacher,’ the kids would call out to me when they had finished a task.
This made me smile until my cheeks ached.