Howdy y’all, hope this blog finds you well.
I am still catching up – I last left off saying goodbye to my parents (early June), marking the halfway point of this grant. I took a step back and set goals to make the most out of my time left. I was determined to incorporate music, environmentalism, and exercise into my life here. I began singing with the discipline teacher and a few students after school most days. One day, three students came eager to sing, and a fourth student told me he couldn’t sing and just wanted to watch. We sang for a while and then the fourth student began to sing quietly, and then louder, and then took the lead! It was incredible! The discipline teacher praised the student, but said he had a far way to go. He then proceeded to tell me that I have no natural musical talent. The next day we sang “You are my Sunshine” and “I’m Yours” for Thursday morning English assembly.
I began running around my neighborhood every day around sunset. It was lovely to see the sunrise as I drive to school, and the sunset as I attempt to exercise in the heat. Each time I see the sunrise or sunset I think about how just for a few moments, I am sharing the same sun with my loved ones back home. Running has felt empowering, but some days impossible due to the poor air quality from my neighbors burning trash, from the nearby Palm Mill, or from incense from our local Guan Yin temple.
Gabs and I drove to Raub to hang out with my friend and former co-hostess at the Huntley Taverne Sarah, who was about to leave KL. We ate Chinese food, cut each others hair, got bubble tea, ate noodles, and went to a waterfall. At the waterfall, I wore a new bright blue sun shirt my mom brought me and butterflies followed me around, it was magical.
That Monday, it was birthday day. Everyone with a birthday from January to June received a cupcake at assembly. After, the discipline teacher called out names and started caning students in front of everyone. I went to class and could not avoid watching the canings from the position of the classroom I was teaching in. We worked on spelling, and then on writing essays. When students finished, some came up to me and played with my hair while I read. Marni put it in pig tails, over and over again. After school, I ate ice cream students and we picked mangos and watched a competitive Scrabble tournament. Later, Gabs and I were invited to go to a teacher’s home to eat vegetables. The teacher had a tofu factory, and an extensive garden full of pineapples, papaya, bananas, mangos, jackfruit, basil, cabbage, eggplant etc. Her whole family was vegetarian and she offered us books on energy and took us on a three hour tour of all the vegetarian stalls within a half hour radius.
We went to Sara’s baseball camp in Jerantut. The camp was an elaborate success. Sara’s boo flew in from the U.S. and brought three suitcases of baseball bats, baseballs, and gloves all donated by friends and family. There were team tents, shirts, hotdogs, cracker jacks, reporters, and photographers. I drove us home and watched two separate motorcycle accidents happen right in front of our car. It messed me up. Life is short.
I spent the weekend with my mentor and her family in Negeri Sembilan and KL. The first night I made a shitty loaf of bread and massaged her mothers back for hours until 2am while we watched Bollywood with Malay subtitles. The next day I drove my mentor and her babies (I was the only one wearing a seatbelt despite trying) to KL to visit her in-laws. We went to what felt like a “Crazy Rich Asians” Hari Raya celebration at a mansion in KL. Everyone spoke English. There was live music, five or six different food stations (cendol, soto, rendang, apam balik etc.) There was a pool with rose petals.
We celebrated Hari Raya at school the next week. To save money, the teachers decided we would cook instead of paying a caterer. We stayed back after school and I helped finely chop onions, garlic, carrots, ginger, and turmeric . Everything was to be made into a paste. I helped add 10 kg of castor sugar into a cauldron of boiling water to be used as the base for drinks (pour an inch/two of the sugar water, then add the corn, rose, milo, or mango syrup. That day marked the 21 day of my period. It was awful. I managed to find the heating pad I had forgotten about and plugged in. I turned on the outlet and there was an electrical fire. Smoke was everywhere, and I experienced a shock. My adapter was fried, my outlet was fried, and my heating pad was useless. I filled up my water bottle with hot water and went to bed.
That night the male teachers stayed up until 2am cooking for the event. At the celebration, I helped dole out pounds of bihun, cut the nasi impit (rice cooked in plastic satchels… yea, plastic, or in Malay: plastik.) It was so hot lah. We took so many photos.
I bought a 9-piece bucket of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw from KFC to my speaking workshop the next day. Everyone showed up that day. After we ate, we played in the school garden and made enai, or henna using leaves from the enai tree using a massive mortar and pestle. After the girls left I stayed and played volleyball with the older boys for a while.
In class that week I used the same two-day lesson plan for a few classes using giant photos of scenes from the U.S. I was given during orientation. The first day, I asked the students to choose a photo and describe it in as much detail as possible. I collected their descriptions, and the next class, randomly handed them out, along with paper and markers. The students drew pictures based on the descriptions. When they were done, I brought out the actual photos and the students had to find the match and then present on the differences. It was highly entertaining.
I went jungle trekking with the Orang Asli students and Miss Tan. Miss Tan drove and we picked up the students at their remote village that looked like a giant dry mud pile with chickens, and vegetables growing everywhere. We drove through the windy, narrow palm roads to the trek. The students navigated us by memory, but missed almost every turn. We arrived to find a locked gate, and had to back up through the jungle for what felt like hours. We drove to another place with a waterfall where we skipped stones, ate nasi, roti with kaya, and took many pictures. On the drive back, Miss Tan put on Enya. The students wanted to stop at a nearby speedmart to buy snacks because they don’t have any grocery store near them, and the nearest gas station with a small shop is 20 minutes from their village. After we dropped them off, Miss Tan told me more about Orang Asli culture, about the frequency of Orang Asli girls dropping out of school at age 13 to get married, and about the Malay custom of cursing other people by reciting a few words and then throwing a nail in the dirty (there are other ways to curse as well.) She also informed me that last year, 20 students were randomly tested from our student body for drugs and eight students came up positive for Methamphetamine.
We invited students to come over to our house the next day, and 25 students showed up. We made capati with honey and drank milo. There was not enough food so I took students out for KFC. After students left, we went to get bubble tea and when we got home at 10:30pm Gabs went to unlock the door and her key broke in half: half in the door, half in her hand. My set of keys was in the locked house. We got the whole neighborhood involved. First, our neighbor picked the lock, then, we were able to open a window. After, neighbors brought out all different sized poles. We tried three different poles, threading the poles through our iron-claded window rungs to reach my lanyard, and then shimmying the lanyard through the window. We were able to get in the house within ten minutes.
That Monday at school we had an assembly on ‘Female Mental Health’ in the Surau with all of the female students. The teachers checked every student’s arm for cuts. The girls who had cuts were slapped, and then told to sit at the front. There were 22 students out of 80 girls. The girls were shamed in front of their friends for an hour or two.
That was June…I missed you, I miss you.
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.