Time is slipping through my fingers. I am torn between wanting to stop time and wanting to flip the hourglass over and be home already. I feel pulled in every which way, planning my future in the U.S., and living in the moment here in Malaysia. In a way the world is spinning and I am in the middle of the earth in fetal position. Regardless of where I am, I am slowly working to find a home in myself, and it feels damn good.
I turned 23 and my students and friends made it a huge deal. There were six celebrations, and every time my students insisted on hand feeding me cake. I felt a resounding sense of empowerment on my birthday, feeling independent and invincible, in thinking back to where I was a year ago and how far I have come. This experience has been the most important thing that has ever happened to me, by far. I am so grateful to my support system for going through it with me, the good and the bad. Endless love for you all.
I last left off in early September and so much has happened at school! We had a prayer/dinner event for family and students in exam years (forms 3 & 5.) Teachers pinned a hijab on me and ushered me to the back of our school’s Surau to sit with the women on their period (who could not pray.) Everyone kept asking me – “are you sure you are comfortable? You can leave but it means a lot to me that you are here.” I stayed and soaked in the special event. After, we served families dinner until the food ran out and one father asked me to marry him. So awkward.
The geography teacher organized a Fashion show competition where students had to design and create a garment out of recyclable materials. I worked with students – rather I hung out with students while they hot-glue-gunned paper plates into skirts and made bouqets out of spoons. It was a beautiful event and my team won! We won measuring spoons from IKEA.
We had a school-wide porridge making day. Students and teachers made two types of porridge – salty and sweet in giant pots and cauldrons. One teacher put 4 bottles of budu in the savory porridge. Budu is fermented anchovy sauce and whatever you’re thinking is completely accurate. Maybe I will bring some home and make you take a shot 😉
I celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival aka Moon Cake Festival, a Chinese harvest festival with Miss Tan, her family, and some of my neighbors. Miss Tan and I wrote wishes on paper lanterns and set them free. We ate slices of salted egg mooncakes and lotus mooncakes. Mooncakes, although small are quite dense and can have around 1,000 calories each. We then lit paper lanterns and using clothing hangers, carried them around the neighborhood. It was the harvest moon, the largest full moon of the year, and a special moment indeed.
One of my goals this year was to combine my passion for the environment with my English teaching and I feel like I can check off that box. I applied for a grant from the U.S. Embassy and got it, allowing me to bring 32 students to a lagoona resort for my final English camp. The theme was ‘Back to Nature’ and my ETA friends and I led activities on plastic pollution, local wildlife, environmental quotes, yoga, karaoke, and journaling. Nothing went to plan but it worked, we talked about the environment, in English, and students had fun. I wanted to give them freedom and space to be 16 years old – to stay up all night with their friends and maybe even break a rule! There was no discipline, and things were light and comfortable. Although – two ETA cars got flat tires on the way to the camp, and one ETA car got into a bad accident on the way to the camp. Everyone is ok. Thank god.
After the English camp, Alicia and friends planned a birthday sleepover in Kuantan. We went to the beach and ate hummus and cheese and real bread and drank kombucha and it was lovely. That night, friends surprised me and decorated one of the rooms in our AirBnb and had brownie cake and some wine. We sang karaoke and danced wild. It was perfect. Full moon energy. The next morning we went to the beach to watch the sunrise, but couldn’t see it due to the haze coming from fires in Indonesia. It only got worse from there.
The haze was awful. For two weeks all outside activities were cancelled, and many schools were closed. Despite outside activities, we had class, even though our classrooms are open air, and basically outside. The air was poison. It stung my eyes and none of us could breathe. We spent every second we could inside with the windows shut, living in a grey cloud of toxic gas. I had students texting me saying “teacher I am scared the world is ending,” sending me pictures of the orange sky in Indonesia – with pollution even worse than in Pahang, Malaysia. A few teachers and I wore masks, but many didn’t. A major problem is that many cannot afford masks, and according to my students “they are not fashionable” – these are the same students that wear fake braces “because fashion teacher!”
We also celebrated Sarah’s birthday in Raub after we each coached basketball teams at her English camp. The day before the camp I had hit my breaking point with the smog and the exhaustion from my camp that I took a mental health day and drew a picture of me and Sarah for her birthday for hours in my room. At the camp we ate roti canai with dahl and got to play basketball with students and it was so fun to run back and forth on the court, it’s been so long. After the camp we got aloe vera drinks and had a party for Sarah. Alicia bought two cakes – one for eating, and the other for shoving in Sarah’s face. We did a lot of dancing and laughing. The next day we had lo shi fun with homemade soy milk made by Alicia and Sarah’s friend and Hash House member: “The Soya King.” The three of us then went to help ‘set’ (trailblaze and mark) Sarah’s birthday hash run to be held the following day.
We arrived at a durian plantation, the home of one of the hashers, and the owner greeted us and cut down a coconut for each of us to take on the trail with us. There were six of us total and we each had a role. The owner of the plantation and the wild jungle out back led us with his machete, slicing down vines and branches, and telling us when we hit a big snake and had to go back. The second in the lineup was the Chairman of the Raub Hashers – I don’t know his name other than ‘Chairman.’ He had a bicycle horn strapped to his fanny pack and would honk it several times every few minutes to announce our presence to the wild. Then, it was Alicia, me, and Sarah, each given scrap paper to staple to leaves in order to ‘mark the trail.’ One final woman was the sweeper, and I think carried a whole case of beer in her bag throughout the trek. The vines, flowers, moss, mushrooms, snakes, and bugs were whimsical and majestic. At the end we were presented with fermented coconut juice – very alcoholic, and encouraged to shotgun beers. We declined and drove home, only to find that the water supply in the neighborhood had run out, a bi-weekly occurrence. Alicia got matching Muji pajama sets with our nicknames embroidered on them for each of us: Lish, Scrappy, and Nessie. I love these people!
I drove to pick up Gabrielle from Temerloh and we came home to Maddie, the previous ETA at Gabrielle’s school, who would be staying with us for a week, with students in our driveway. It was great to meet Maddie and ask her a million questions about Katie, the ETA at my school last year, but she also told us that there were rats in our kitchen last year. We haven’t seen any signs of the rats yet, but have many cockroaches – which we don’t bother to kill or spray anymore. We just leave them to die on their own and then sweep them out the door. Oh Malaysia.
This past week I led an assembly on Climate Change. I broke it down for them and then played Greta Thunberg’s speech to world leaders at the United Nations for them. It was so cool to tell them that English was her second language, and that she was 16, just like many of them. After, I let Syawal sing ‘Let it Go’ for the whole school.
This weekend was very special. Last week I found a form 1 student, a relatively new student who I have been trying to look out for, crying in a stairwell and brought her to the English room, to learn that some boy took her diary and read it to the whole class. We talked for a while, and I let her keep it in my desk. The next day, she came up to me and asked me if there was going to be a celebration for me. I told her that I thought there would be some kind of goodbye assembly or something. She said “no, my friends and I, we want to celebrate you, just us.” I was really touched and we made plans for the following day (yesterday) to get breakfast and hang out at school (there really is nowhere else to hang out, except for the sewage facility and the gas station in the school community.) I took them out for roti canai and milo. They brought balloons, and bags, and we bought henna and ice cream. We blew up the balloons and they drew designs on my hands. I sang with the older students while they ‘went to the bathroom’ – we sang “Zombie” by the Cranberries, and “Baby” by J Biebs, per their request and ate curry puffs. The younger girls came back and I let them throw water balloons at me and we ate nasi lemak on banana leaves. After, they blindfolded me using part of their hijabs and led me to my car. They decorated the hood of the car with candy and flowers and put a really thoughtful card and balloons inside my car (which I should probably lock more.) It was really really sweet.
Later that day, four form 5 boys came over to watch horror movies and go to the night market in my town. We watched ‘Escape Room’ and last year’s ‘Spiderman’ (which was so well done) and ate mushroom pizza, char kuey teow, and drank bubble tea. While we were at the night market the students were like “teacher, you don’t need to be so friendly”. Night markets are intense, full of fried food and people watching me, and as a result are not my favorite thing at all. I told them, “I don’t know who I have met before, and these people live nearby – I would rather smile at them and then have them look out for me, also, if I don’t smile at school everyone gives me a really hard time.” We had some super real conversations and I feel like they really get me. It felt wonderful.
Class has been really good for the most part. We have fun together and try to speak/learn a bit of English. These students have light pouring out of them and I think they are absolutely divine. Also, yes I added names in the captions because I never ever want to forget!