Winding Down

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.

The badminton court in between the office building and the bilik guru building. Other sports the school offers are Archery, Takrow, Cricket, and Net Ball.
Playing batu seremban, a traditional Malay game during class. I think the game is kind of like Jacks…regardless we need 5 stones and I will teach you.
Najua, Ain, Damia, farhanani, Diana, Farah, Najiha, Amira Umairah, Syuhada, Huda, Lily, Sarah
These students feel more like friends than students. Lokhman told me that whoever I end up with needs to fly to Malaysia and ask him for permission. I agreed.
Azam, Lokhman, Firdaus
The bilik guru (teacher’s room) with a view of Teacher Aniza’s and my mentor Teacher Shafaf’s desk.
Aish Farhat, my mentor’s son born in March. Playing with babies and taking care of children has been such an unexpected, but wonderful aspect of my life here. I’m thinking I might want to be a doula at some point.
During some class periods we go to the library and students read books and (sometimes) write summaries. That day, Shamira lost her glasses so we all took turns reading to her.
Form 2IS, Shamira, Ayenul, Tasha, Azmeera, Hanani
Painting murals with form 3 after PT3 examinations finished.
One Wednesday I entered their class and decided to plan a Performing Arts Showcase for the following day during English Assembly. Ain, Fajar, and Naz read a poem about frienship. Syawal sang a mashup of songs like “Believer,” Afiq and Khairul did a dance, Lokhman’s AMT group decided to forgo their dance and give advice on how to be your best self. Razif’s group’s guitar string broke.
Rusil, Fajar, Aiman Hakimi, Lokhman, Azam, Khalida, Diyana, Firdaus, Naz, Pika, Syawal, Ain, Khairul, Azaim, Ikmal, Afiq, Razif, Ame. Ame’s auntie makes the best nasi lemak.
I took the students out for roti with tea one Saturday morning. We walked to the restaurant from school and it happened to be Naim’s father’s shop. After eating his roti dahl I paid Naim to bring the roti to school a few times.
These girls love a good boomerang photo. We sat underneath the car park overhang and I played music…not my teacher playlist but the music I actually listened to. Ain gave me henna while other students spoke in Malay and played in the field. It was a pure moment and I cried.
Humaira, Sarah, Rahatul, Husna, Damia.
I mean how precious are they?
Husna, Rahatul, Ain, Ain Syuhada
Firdaus (Daus) A precious, sassy form 4 student and friend/alien with serious fashion sense.
My reaction to seeing my black eyebrows. The students wanted to give me a makeover…(should I take the hint?) It was a really sweet gesture and I felt honored but by the end of it I looked like a new person.
They did my hair and dressed me in various garments they made for the Geography Fashion show. I’m gonna miss them so much :/
Rusil and Diyana.
After the makeover the students showed me their chickens. Their class was broken into groups and they were each given a shelf and several chickens to feed and keep alive throughout the year.
I have been saving this Monday Crossword for nine months and finally decided to do it. My mom sends me clippings of Crossword puzzles and KenKen puzzles from the NYTimes and they are some of my most prized possessions here in Malaysia. Zak and Camila came over last weekend to sleepover and hang out. We watched “Get Out,” ate vegetables, and started to unpack the year.
At one point, the owner of the stall brought us a plate of chicken feet “for free” she said, “you must try” she said. We did try lah.
During class one day Aliyah (5p) asked me if I was going to the prefect dinner and I told her I knew nothing about it. She told me she asked the teachers to invite me and said she would ask again. That meant the world. We went to a hotpot restaurant an hour away in Temerloh. I took the bus home with students and we sang songs and ate sour plum candy.
Naim, Rusil, and Pika, form 4IS.
Form 5<3
Last weekend I met up with Azam, Daus, and Rusil and we ate cendol/ABC at a stall by the side of the road.
After, we ate roti canai and roti dahl at Azam’s family’s stall. We then went on a hike through the palm fields by his grandma’s home.


Students arranged a ride to my town so we could eat KFC together and it always means a lot to me when they make the trek out. This time, I didn’t realize that they were going to demand to be fed and entertained for like 6 hours until one girl’s brother came to pick them up.
Hokkien Mee – not halal
Teh Tarik
Roti canai soaked in kari at my desk from Teacher Aniza.
A typical lunch at school…two pieces of chicken, rice, chicken broth, sambal
Nasi Lemak with fried egg.
Nasi Lemak packed
Nasi hujan panas with fried chicken and salad – Friday food.
Last but not least, my parent’s beautiful new apartment in Jersey City featuring my dad.

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.

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