“Thus, it happened that I went.”
Here amongst the palm trees and tropical swelter it is easy to draw the distinction between my life here in Malaysia for the next year and my life back home in the great state of Michigan, I even heard it was 2 degrees F the other day; not the most similar aspect of these two environments. But as I stayed up late last night to watch the Presidential Inauguration I had a very strange feeling contemplating where I would be at this point in time if I were not here. I almost certainly thought that I would be in Washington DC with some good friends observing for the first time the spectacle that is one of America’s greatest marvels and one which fully embodies America’s civic values and virtue: peaceful transitions of power.
If you would have asked me in the Spring of 2011 where I would be on this day I would have undoubtedly given you the above answer; a year later, probably a totally different answer, and just a few months ago, perhaps another. As it happened though, through the twists and turns of life I have arrived at this place in this time. Often, for me at least, it seems as though the settings of life and the ultimate decisions made are not so much our own, and over time, dilemmas eventually “grow towards the clarity of a decision”. It is strange to think about, but as I sat with some new friends to watch the water and lights of the PETRONAS Towers, another very different kind of spectacle, I had the sensation that this place at this time was for me, and by very little doing of my own I have somehow found myself more than 10,000 miles from where I might have been otherwise. It was one of those moments you realized would be important to you a year from now, 10 years from now, maybe even 20 years from now—one of those rare moments that you are aware that something momentous is happening while it is happening. Many times you can see the importance of things with the help of hindsight, but times are few and far between that you can think to yourself, “I won’t forget this”—times like sitting on the shore of lake Michigan with close friends deep into the night, walking into the Eisenhower Building for the first time, driving through the grasslands of Wyoming as the sunsets—these are the kind memories you will always feel a profound connection to. Therefore, as the week on the whole went by I found that I was in fact in the right place, and perfectly in time.
Orientation continues to go well, but it does drag on at times. Notice that above I said, “in time” rather than “on time”, here in Malaysia I have basically thrown out the concept of being “on time”. Almost nothing seems to start on time, people generally arrive exactly when they mean to, whenever that may be. In a similar fashion, orientation is scheduled to start at 8:30 AM, so naturally, realizing that we have never started on time; people typically don’t leave the hotel until 8:30 and trickle in until 9:00. It is frustratingly the same with all meetings and get-togethers. When people want to meet in the lobby to go explore the city we set a time that is generally a half hour before we really want to go. We might be overreacting a bit though.
But discussions in orientation run the gambit. Going to that cavernous, lightless, slightly disheveled room has been very helpful in many ways: learning teaching methods for ESL students, discussing life as an ETA, learning the cultural uniqueness of Malaysia and how not to make significant blunders (we have been told that minor occurrences will happen, it’s just a matter of making sure they’re not irreconcilable), more Bahasa class, and a much more in-depth look at the current political and economic issues. MACEE even brought in some TEFL teachers from Indonesia to give us lesson ideas, as well as members of the U.S. Embassy and individuals from the Ministry of Education (MOE) here in Malaysia. Overall, everything has been extremely informative. Also, I have found that Bahasa is a pretty fun and a simple language to learn to my relief, and last year’s ETAs have been very kind and helpful in setting up this year’s orientation.
We ended last week’s orientation sessions with some extensive planning for an English Camp we would be running in groups here in KL. English camps are essentially much like a day of summer camp in the U.S. but are essentially Saturday school sessions for students with particularly high English scores; it serves as a reward for doing well in class. Students show up for about 5 to 8 hours and speak only English and play a few games while they are at it. My group only had a couple of hours to plan over the course of the week, but on Saturday we showed up with a serious A game and hit the students with some high energy and content based games that they loved.
We worked with them from about 10:00AM to 4:00PM with breaks for lunch and prayer. Essentially, we created a theme based on the Olympic Games and had the students break into groups and create their own country and compete in some English based games in the afternoon for medals (handmade candy prizes). The kids responded very well to us and really, REALLY cheered for us as we walked in. We may have got an early taste of what it means to be a celebrity unable to hide from the masses, and all the goods and bads that go along with it. But more than anything else we were all very much reassured about why we had come to Malaysia: that help was truly needed, that we could enjoy ourselves immensely, and hopefully be enjoyed by others as well. I have to say that I could do this for a while, and it’s like I have missed it for a long time somehow and now finally it feels good to be back in it. After loading back into the vans while getting mobbed by students and teachers wanting pictures, Facebook accounts and autographs a successful week was over and we headed back to our hotel.
That night we attended a reception at the Ambassadors house celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright program here in Malaysia and the cultural exchange that has taken place in the last half century. I was a very nice event and we all got to meet with some State officials and maybe even more excitingly some animated high school students about to leave for the U. S. for their first time to live out the year with a host family in rural America. Among the many there were actually three going to be living in Michigan starting on Tuesday: one in Bloomfield Hills, one in Muskegon and one in HOLLAND! I talked to those enthusiastic students for most of the time and tried to reassure them that it wasn’t that cold in Michigan (probably a lie), and that they would have a wonderful time in the best State of the Union (probably not a lie). On top of that, one student was about to embark to live with a host family in tiny Edgerton, Minnesota: the small town where my Dad had lived as a boy and where my Grandfather had served as a Pastor years ago. The world is indeed small.
On Sunday, we decided that we only had two major things left to see in the city before we wanted to leave: the National Mosque and the Islamic Arts Museum. Both of these venues were quite honestly two of the most beautiful buildings I had ever been in, and they were two buildings unlike any others I had seen. They were wide-open pristine expanses of stone and water, and the lyrical and rhythmic calls to prayer resonated clearly through the amphitheater of marble. Shoeless we walked and enjoyed the cool air from the large, open rooms all while saying next to nothing. It was my first experience in a Mosque (and most assuredly not my last) and I will remember it fondly.
It is almost sad to say, but after taking in the magnitude of the PETRONAS Towers the other night and after today’s orientation my time in KL will nearly be done. Our last regular day of orientation has taken place, and now we will be ceremonially handed off to our respective States and go through a brief orientation there until we finally move into our permanent residences next Friday. The next two weeks may be even more of a whirlwind with even more traveling, but I am looking forward to it and feel pretty well rested thus far. I’m looking forward to what will come.
I myself find the way such a decision comes about to be problematic. One thing is clear to me, however, that one personally—that is, consciously—has very little control over the ultimate yes or no [of decisions], but rather that time decides everything. Maybe not with everybody, but in any event with me. Recently I have noticed again and again that all the decisions I had to make were not really my own decisions. Wherever there was a dilemma, I just left it in abeyance and—without really consciously dealing with it intensively—let it grow toward the clarity of a decision, But this clarity is not so much intellectual as it is instinctive. The Decision is made, whether one can adequately justify it retrospectively is another question. “Thus” it happened that I went.”