Hello from Malaysia!
I could not have dreamt this place up. Malaysia has been a wild adventure that has challenged me and pushed me to my breaking point several times. I am pushing back.
School has gotten easier. I have joined net ball, archery, badminton, and bocce. Every day I stay at school until around 6pm painting the English room with my students, or going to sports. Every Friday I wear a hijab/tudong for the holy day as a sign of respect. Every day is different and challenging, but I am getting through it. This blog post will recap the past three weeks.
A few weeks ago I got a text at 11pm that we had sports day (~track and field day) the next day for the whole school without any practice. I cheered on the relay races and held the finish line (a special piece of tape we reused). We managed to get fourth in the district!
We were invited to a Kenduri or a baby welcoming shower at my friend Olivia’s mentor’s home. Hanging out with babies is so relaxing. We had amazing food and my favorite…rose water juice.
Gabrielle and I got back at 11pm and heard knocks on our door…about ten Chinese fourteen-year-old boys on motorcycles from Gabrielle’s school were outside our door inviting us to a birthday party. We decided to go and ate cake and satay. The birthday girls mom kept asking “Are you boring?”. Gabrielle and I looked at each other and said “No, we are not bored, this is fun!”. After a few times, the mother said “B-O-R-I-N-G, are you boring?”. Life lesson: you win some, you lose most.
The next day two of our Fulbright coordinators came to our house to talk, check in on us, and take us out for lunch. We balled out at this awesome vegetarian restaurant thirty minutes away (we live in the Palm fields). I ordered TWO smoothies and ramen. It was so helpful to talk to the coordinators who have done the program before and get their insight.
Later that week at school I had to lead an English assembly for the whole school (every Thursday…send help). I decided to teach them the dance to “Cupid Shuffle” and wow I cannot fully communicate what a fail it was. The students I had taught the dance to before, who I had up on stage with me REFUSED to dance because boys were there and the whole school was so shy…only about 10/400 students did it. Meanwhile, I just went all in and did it by myself “To the right, to the right, to the right to the right”…over and over again for the whole song.
Later that day, students came up to me and asked to re-learn the dance in private without boys so we did the cupid shuffle like ten times after school in the English Room while we painted the room white, and then blue. They also wanted to do the Chicken Dance, the Cha Cha Slide, and to teach me the dance to Syinta Gila, a Malay song.
All the while I had violent food poisoning and eventually drove myself to the clinic where I had to explain to two men who did not speak English, in front of everyone in the waiting room, the details of my violent food poisoning…. I ended up seeing a doctor and getting medicine all for free because I am a governmental employee!! Also for the past month dentists have set up shop at our school and have been calling students out of class to clean their teeth and treat any dental problems for free…go Malaysia!
That weekend I had to cancel my plans to hang out with friends to go to a Parents seminar at school on a Saturday. I sat through two hours of a lecture in Bahasa Melayu before teachers waved me outside to hang out.
That Sunday we fed and bathed with elephants at an elephant sanctuary somewhat close to our house. Being with elephants was out of this world. Of course our car broke down right before we left but we got a new car by the time we came back…thank you Sue! I unfortunately majorly offended Sue the Avis rep by saying “Faham”, or ‘understand’ which could mean “I understand”, “you understand”, “he/she understands”, or slang for “do you understand?”. I probably say Faham at school to other teachers and students five hundred times a day. I’m still not sure what happened, but regardless, Sue I am sorry and I am learning.
The next week was full of English camp preparation and paint. On Wednesday, I told students to meet me in the English room and help me paint after they went home and prayed, ate, and showered. I waited for like an hour and just before I left five giggly girls came running into the room. We painted, danced to the Cupid Shuffle etc, and ate candy. After a while, they asked me if they could take off their hijab’s and of I said yes of course (we were in an enclosed space and no men were present). It meant a lot to me that the girls felt comfortable going “free-hair” as they would call it with me. Soon after one girl got paint on her face, so I put paint on my nose, and then we all painted each others face and laughed and laughed. By that point I was so dehydrated because the school does not have free/readily accessible drinking water and I drank all of my bottles. They took me to get ice cream in their motorcycles, and I followed with my car (I am not allowed to ride motorcycles in Malaysia or drive students). We each ate ice cream with one hand and drove with the other. They took me to “the place”, a beautiful, relaxing place they go almost every day that was very close to the school. It was beautiful. There were mountains and lakes, but the lakes were rectangular and man-made, and the smell was rather pungent. It was their local sewage facility.
The next day I had my English camp. We are required to do two English camps throughout our grant and this camp was one of the first camps in the entire cohort, and thrown together at the last minute (my mentor was leaving the next week for maternity leave). My roommate Gabrielle came to help me and we did a skit about smoking for English Assembly (check out my teacher IG to watch part of it). We did a gesture/dance in a circle, and then played a true/false running game about smoking. Then we ate fried noodles for breakfast and I gave a presentation on smoking. I made sure the students were WELL fed because 60 hangry students = a headache. Each slide consisted of one point, but I spent a great deal of time explaining the point in English, acting it out, explaining it in Malay, and asking them questions about it. We had snack break with Pandan cake and chrysanthemum juice, and then the students broke into groups and made anti-smoking posters. I am happy with how it went!
This past weekend Gabrielle and I drove to Pekan and met up with other ETA’s at a pasar malam (night market), and had a giant sleepover. We watched “Three Wives One Husband”, played fishbowl, and Olivia braided my hair because it was so freakin hot.
On Saturday we went back to Kuantan where we had regional orientation. We went to the beach and I got majorly sunburnt. I was sitting in the shade and manning our stuff and a group of men approached me and asked me to move. I did not want to give up the shade because I am genuinely afraid of the sun but when I asked why they pointed to the tree above my head and said “coconut”. I said…can you get me one? I moved out of the way while one of them climbed the tree with a machete and coconuts began thudding down to the ground. They cut me two coconuts and I was forever grateful to Jai, my new friend who thinks that my name is Hanna and I am from Florida.
That night, we drove to Chenor and learned how to make fish with Olivia and Kortney’s landlord. I walked in after everyone and legit stepped on a cake with my sandy foot in front of the grandmother. Fortunately it was not ruined and we still ate it…you win some, you lose most. The food was INSANE. We ate so much of it, and then they gave us bracelets and we watched “Baby’s Day Out”?
This coming weekend I head to Taiwan for a Fulbright conference, and then to Thailand later in the month. I am thinking of you and missing you! Sending love and light.
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.