Next week is my last week of classes and I am heartbroken and struggling to make sense of it all. Two weeks left in the grant but I am still settling in, learning Malay, and making magical memories. This post recaps the past few weeks. I will do another post on meeting the royals – stay tuned.
This is an excerpt of my general reflection for Fulbright:
I will always remember the light emanating from my students. The orange sun. The men riding with long machete poles on motorbikes, the palm fruit falling off trucks and hitting my windshield. The kindness and generosity of the teachers and students in inviting me into their homes. Of Syifa’s family and her children running to me with open arms asking to be carried. I will remember the windy roads, the tall palm trees swaying, my neighbors waving at me, the cockroaches we leave to die on the floor, the bat poop in my driveway I sweep up and hose off daily, keeping my fern alive, locking and unlocking my door, trying to run in my neighborhood, the relief of shutting my door, turning on my fan and twinkle lights, and putting on essential oils and looking at all the cards from loved ones fluttering with the wind from the fan. The heat. The heavy monsooning rains that lull me to sleep. The noise of the motorbikes outside my windows, the closing and opening of my iron gate, the threading the nearby branch through the gate to help secure the gate. Saying yes to things I never could have imagined myself doing. My heart swelling with love and admiration for my students and life here. The awkward interactions in the canteen while I try to scarf down some rice in time for class and have no planned activity. Prayers and “good mor-ning tee-cher” before each class. The millions of “hai teeecher,” and “I fine” every day. Singing three songs at assembly each week, or rather students looking absolutely miserable and glaring at the teachers, mouth closed, in revolt. Trying to listen and understand, and trying to be understood. When I am talking to someone back home and forget I don’t have to speak slowly, or be conscious of every word I say. Different students texting me about their same crush. Students fixing their tudongs in the window in front of my desk in the bilik guru. Students telling me they got me a gift but that it’s cheap and not much but it being riddled with meaning for me. Listening to Malay not to understand, but to zone out and enjoy the musical swings of the intonation while I watch the palm leaves. Five students writing about me in their exam, prompting them to discuss the most memorable thing that ever happened to them. The music playing before school starts. Meeting the King and Queen. The slow steady movement with students toward being emotionally vulnerable with each other. My Pahoe family. Listening to rap in the car with Gabrielle. The constant adventure and learning.
I will also remember the bad. Watching my students get beaten almost every day. The sound of the cane. The students laughing in discomfort. Students pulling me aside and telling me they want to kill themselves. Hearing that a student’s father hung himself in front of their home. Students telling me they have no money because their mom doesn’t work or left and their dad is a lorry driver, or because the price of palm oil is so low. Looking at my students infected cuts and bruises from their motorcycle accidents. Learning that 25% of the girls at my school cut their wrists, and in a random sample of 20 students, 8 tested positive for meth. Students confiding in me they are afraid their parents will beat them if they find out they cut. Hearing students call each other “Bangladeshi” and other racial slurs I can’t name. The air pollution. An entire class of students sleeping because they were picking palm oil until 3am. Students calling each other gay, and fat, and chubby, and like a girl. Students not eating lunch because “she diet teacher.” Begging for help from teachers, or even for them to just show up. Begging to be paid back from my school and feeling like a nuisance. I will remember sitting on the toilet sobbing with the doors closed, holding my own hand, body hurting from the crying and hearing knocks at my window only to meet students who wanted to come in and watch horror movies, and having to be “Miss Clare.” Being watched, followed, recorded, sweet talked to, proposed to, and groped by people here. All the food poisoning. Squatty potties. Cleaning my white tile floor of the grime my crocs drag in. Covering my body at all times and being scolded by my students when the strap of my sports bra shows. These memories are important and I learned something from each one of them.
Thank you for reading, I can’t wait to see you in December and hear your stories, too.
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.