*Bat poop was raining from my ceiling…conveniently on all of my belongings, but some man came and closed the vent after a few days.
The highs are high and the lows are low. This post is about my first week living in my community and working at my school. I am writing this post a week late because so many things were happening at once and I was having a really hard time.
My roommate Gabrielle and I live in a rural Chinese community in Bera, Pahang. Our town consists of one main street and our house is small, but sufficient. Gabs and I each have our own room and our own bathroom/shower room. We have an extra room for guests and for our crap. Our kitchen has one working burner, a few woks, and a whole lot of useless junk. We have a water filter, air conditioning, extremely intense fans in each room, and, most importantly our neighbor’s WiFi password.
My school is a bit further away than Gabrielle’s school so I am the main driver. Surprisingly, I love driving here because it is the one thing I can somewhat control. Because we live amidst the palm fields, we have to be ready to swerve cows, monkeys, goats, and sometimes our students on motorbikes while driving on the left side of the road…a super fun challenge!
Gabrielle’s school is located in our town, and therefore has a higher representation of ethnicities (Chinese Malaysian, Indian Malaysian, and Malay) whereas my school is 100% Malay. By law, if you are Malay, you are Muslim. My school is a FELDA school, meaning that it was built for a resettled community that works on government owned land used for palm oil production. This means that most of the parents of my students work in production of palm oil and rubber, an industry where there is limited economic prosperity for those who work in the field. The school has a very small budget – classrooms have whiteboards and that’s about it. Also, there is no nurse, or nurses office. If students get sick, teachers drive them to the nearest clinic. According to other teachers, most of the students come from broken families, and it is not uncommon for the students to be addicted to drugs, some drugs of which are as dangerous as meth. Some of the girls have marks and cuts on their arms due to self-abuse and have talked to me about depression and anxiety. I am having a difficult time navigating these aspects of my school. I am also struggling with the concept of teaching English in Malaysia, and worry that this program embodies modern colonialist ideals.
The night before my first day of school I had food poisoning and could not stop throwing up, but my welcome speech and first day were a success. My mentor is a wonderful Malay woman, English teacher, and mother of three, who is also eight months pregnant. The first week I shadowed her and another English teacher, co-taught classes, hung out with students in the canteen, and got to know the other teachers in the bilik guru (teacher’s lounge). We also went to an all day ping pong tournament instead of school one day. Outside of school, Gabrielle and I have spent a great deal of time bonding with our mentors…making wontons, going to rice paddies, and eating new foods!
Being a white, pale-faced red head comes with a great deal of attention that I was not fully prepared for. Gabrielle and I were invited to a wedding and it was very uncomfortable because for a few minutes we became the center of attention, instead of the bride and groom. At school, and in our community we are constantly watched, and told to smile more. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. The unwanted attention from men is awkward and annoying. We were told to lie that we had boyfriends or were engaged to avoid the nagging. Thank god, and Fulbright for my dear roommate, Gabrielle.
ClareAbouts is not an official U.S. Department of State publication, and the views and information presented in this blog are entirely my own, and do not represent the Fulbright U.S. Student Program or the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Commission or Malaysia.