Greetings loved ones,
This blog post recaps a difficult week.
School has been tough. My mentor went on her maternity leave. No teacher wants the extra work of being my mentor, so no one tells me what is going on at school but I can’t take it personally! I am making the best of it and continuing to stretch my comfort zone each day. I have learned magic tricks and cricket, joined the archery team, and am planning on joining the gardening club. When things get hard at school I take a deep breathe and put on my alter ego…”Miss Clare”. Miss Clare is a bright, sunny, white girl with no problems from New York City. On March 5, Miss Clare cracked.
The day started with a teacher giving me a special headscarf she wanted me to wear to school. I played soccer with the form 2 girls while other students watched and cheered us on. I had a few tough classes, with students sleeping and physical fights breaking out. My last class was particularly difficult – the last 20 minutes were spent with me sitting at my desk with my head in my hands checking the clock every 5 seconds. At the end of the day, I went to the bilik guru (~teacher’s lounge) and ate a Kit Kat. While I was eating a teacher came up and told me that students and teachers were offended by my outfit and were complaining about it. I was wearing loose cotton Uniqlo pants (that were on the packing list, I have 6 pairs), and a grey spaceship t-shirt from the Joshua Tree I had been excited to wear. I kept explaining that the pants were on the packing list, but the teacher kept pressing me. Then, she came clean on what really was wrong…my sports bra was visible through my shirt. I wake up so early and don’t look in the mirror but to put on quick mascara before rushing out the door before 7am, so I hadn’t noticed. I also had not noticed that apparently the whole day the whole school was talking about how promiscuous my outfit was, because I cannot speak BM. The teacher kept staring at me and talking through me, offering to give me money for new clothes etc. My mind had wandered off and everything I had been suppressing every day to be “Miss Clare” came flooding forward. I felt deeply ashamed and incredibly far away. My eyes started watering and I wept and wept. Other teachers started circling me, rubbing my back, and telling me to “smile more”, to “stop crying”, to “be strong”, and to “be happy”. I could. not. stop. crying. Eventually I told them to please give me some time alone.
I left to go to archery and wore my new headscarf/shawl the teacher gave me as a cape. Students asked me why I was wearing it and I told them…I am a superhero, just like you, but “not all heroes wear capes”. I know some of the students saw me crying and at first, I was embarrassed, and felt guilty I could not be a good role model to them. After thinking about it, I think it is important for young people to see adults (am I an adult?) cry and show emotion. I have found that no matter someones age, everyone is dealing with shit. Life is such a crazy ride and then we die. No one has everything together. I am working to use my shame and vulnerability as a source of connection with my students.
The next day every teacher continued their mantra of “be happy, smile more…” etc. I talked to one teacher who lives in my tiny neighborhood about how I am having a hard time and am not always in the mood to smile. I talked about how difficult and uncomfortable it is for me to be “Miss Clare” and be constantly watched and taken photos of. She told me: “Eh…Clare…you are so beautiful, I love to watch you…my husband loves to watch you too eh!”. I led assembly that day and taught the students how to make rain sounds using their bodies, it went ok.
That Friday my very-pregnant mentor came to school to take her printer (our school does not have a printer) and it was like being reunited with family. I was leaving for the Fulbright conference later that day and we had made plans to get food in Kuala Lumpur that night, but she went into labor! She had a beautiful baby boy.
Instead, Alicia (another ETA/my bff) and I met up with Sarah, my friend and fellow Huntley Taverne hostess/Jersey girl who studied ES at Bates, but just moved to KL! She made us tea and brought a care package from my parents full of tea and essential oils and letters that I waited to open. This creepy guy sat next to me on the bus from KL and I could not move for three hours but it was so worth it to see Sarah – a piece of home! The next day Alicia and I met up with the other 18 ETA’s going to Taiwan for the Fulbright Conference!
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.