I have been here now for more than 8 months (written in early September) and though it may have taken time, I fully feel as though I am assimilated into the community of Maran. I am no longer a blaring enigma walking around town at long last. People no longer stop their cars to stare or ask me where I want to go. They know I am here. I live in Maran. I teach at the schools. I buy groceries and go out to the same restaurants every week.
I have fallen into a predictable routine and not only do I know it now, but so does everybody else. You might think that it is sad that I am no longer turning heads, but even though I am quite popular (certainly not normal) I feel as though this is my ordinary life here now. The school feels like a place where I actually work, the students are actually my students, and my teaching friends are actually my friends. Not only that however, but my home actually feels like my home, and my bed is my bed. I remember the first night I spent here I really had trouble falling asleep as I was too afraid of bugs , gekos or God-knows-what crawling on me as I slept. I said to myself, “Where am I and how did I get here?” about every night. But now, I can lounge and sleep soundly in my room, even do the same in the middle of the jungle with no mosquito net. Creepy-crawlies among many other things simply are just not problems like I thought they were. Often times I can even forget I am in a foreign place. That is, until I do something considered strange.
For instance, just last week I was sitting in the Bilik Guru (or the teacher’s lounge)doing some work when a staff administrator came in the room looking shocked. He wanted my help. Unsure of what was wrong I of course said that I would help him. But then he told me that I was the only one that would probably help because I was a for a Orang Putih (white person). I then gathered that wanted me to help him catch an animal in the school store, so I followed him down to the Koperasi where we peered in and discovered a snake of at least 5 feet in length. I pointed at me and then the snake in one fluent motion as if to say, “Go get it!”. Little did he know that I had been waiting for this moment for my whole life! I couldn’t tell you how many times I had seen Steve Irwin catch snakes on Animal Planet and I was of course confident that with that education I could wrangle anything that crawled my way.
By looking at the snake I knew that it was not venomous but no one else did. I tried to convey that there was limited danger but know it was hard to get across. We had very different wrangling strategies, as the other teachers wanted to simply kill the snake, and I wanted to catch it a let it go into the jungle. This immediately became clear when without warning one of my teachers rushed the room with a large stick above his head and began hammering it to the ground like he was trying to split wood. He was going to chop that snake in half. But he missed every time. The snake made a hasty escape out the door and around the back of the girl’s hostel into a giant pile of palm leaves. It was clear that he could not stay there; the female students would not have it. So as we stood wondering how to get the snake out, a random man off the road came up and without a word set the whole pile of brush on fire. Ingenious, I guess. We waited for the snake to inevitably shoot out, which it did. And when it did, it slipped across the ground straight to me. I used my stick and brought it down fast across the back of its neck. It was pinned. Then, I simply grasped the top of its head with my forefingers and slipped my thumb under its jaw just as I had seen Steve, Jeff and Manny (Animal Planet heroes/crazies) do some many times. People thought it was the weirdest thing they had ever seen. They wanted me to throw the snake in the fire, but I explained that since it hurt no one, I would not hurt it in any way. Again, I was the most insane person of the day.
But after a quick walk into the jungle just behind our school I would let the snake go—not without being followed by nearly every boy age 6 to 17 though. That day I went from moderate celebrity super athlete to borderline superhero, merciful and impervious to venom. No one understood that the snake was essentially a large Gardner snake—totally harmless.
I achieve yet another life long dream just the week earlier: I caught a 3 foot Monitor Lizard in another disgruntled ETA’s home. Upon a quick visit to a local ETA’s house they informed me that there was actually a large lizard in the corner one of their rooms. Again, I channeled my inner Steve (something that’s never been too far away from me) and pinned the pseudo-dinosaur to the ground with a blanket. People of the American varity thought I was stupid and lucky. I guess you can’t be a hero to everybody.
Other than fighting foolish animals in the forest I have done a few other things in at school lately. My lessons are going well and I am really doing a lot of teaching. My lessons are varying now, with students in every form in a different exam schedual I am running around trying to meet their needs and catering to preparing them for their exam formats. (As a side note, I will say that the prevalence of exams in this country and the schedules that they dictate for children and teachers are something that I have more than a few opinions on, but seeing that I have sworn to not mention names or say anything political in this blog I’ll refrain. Maybe another time. ) I am busy and feeling quite like I would if I was in my first year teaching in the US at this point. The demands on my time and afterschool activity schedule are high, but that just might be what it takes to bring me to a sense of normalcy to it all.
In brief details, I am currently working through units on the future, along with the future tense, but trying to make it more big picture as well. I am of course still trying to weave in larger thematic concepts that require students to question, incite creativity and implore critical thinking of value systems. But along with those macro topics of life (more or less) I am working on real heroes, stereotypes, idioms, poetry, songs, along with things like Bucket-Lists and future goals that make students think about what they value and how best to achieve what they seek ; all while being a pretty goofy character in the class. Students have, and probably always will, laugh at me while I’m in the class, but I try to use that to my advantage to teach some more weighty things without them really knowing it. That begin said, teaching is now teaching. The same as it would be anywhere else in the world, and I am enjoying it even though it is not as much a novelty as it used to be.
Apart from the at school time, I have a number of extra-curricular activities that are going really strong now. I spend a large percentage of the time after school just talking to students that live in the hostel. Though I have been doing extra-classes/tutoring 3 days a week for students preparing for exams, I also have done some writing workshops just for fun and to entice some creativity (which is still lacking quite a bit). But on an even more fun level I have been playing a lot of music and maybe even more football.
SIDE NOTE: And yes, we still tutor the terrible twosome. They still are terrible.
Michael’s Movie n’ Music Monday was the brainchild of a long time past, but it finally came to fruition about mid-August. It started with me sharing the plethora of Disney movies that I have. And then I realized that the students loved the music in the movies almost as much as I did (If I were to have a ranking system, Disney music might be at the top for favorite music genera. Whoops.) I also realized that the music was a great way to understand the stories and an even better way to understand English. So I started just pausing the movies at during my favorite songs, passing out lyrics sheets and going though the songs with the music. It was a blast! The students love singing and never really get the chance to do that (more on this latter.) But what started with movies eventually just turned into me bringing my guitar to the computer room and teaching them songs. I eventually exhausted my library of movies as well. But this has been successful and one of the most fun things that I have done all year. Students practice English, learn about things like dynamics, tone and rhythm, and get to do something entirely new to them: choral singing.
I have also have been playing football nearly every day with my male hostel students now and it has been a great way to connect with them since they are a little more reluctant to sing and a little bit less excitable about learning in the classroom setting. We always have a good time, and they feel free to ask me questions about all sorts of thing that they would never ask in class: Where’s your wife? Are girls good or bad for you? Why don’t you have children? What is Halloween? Have you ever drunk alcohol before? But really, sir, where is your wife? Have you ever been dancing? Are you sad you don’t have a wife? Is Santa Clause real? –all very pertinent questions in the eyes of 15-year-old Malay boys. Such questions make me realize how little I know about life, but maybe more surprisingly, that I too really have no idea how to explain Halloween.
But I have done a couple things thus far that have equally engaged all of my students. My biggest project of the year has now come to pass. It was my idea early in the year to have a larger community project with local schools to help unity and build the understanding for the importance of English. I wanted a community project that would involve students at not just my schools but others as well. So with the help of a few other ETAs we devised a SUPER camp in which we had 6 schools join from around the State of Pahang to enjoy an overnight camping experience in Maran, all while being immersed in English songs and games. The camp was Medieval themed and I have to say that the creation of the plan for the overall camp was one of my prouder moments.
It wasn’t easy, but we acquired funds from our schools, MACEE, our district and state boards of education, and even an equivalent of the PTA so that we could host a large camp of over 150 students from around the State—ages 13 to 16. The buses, food and tents were difficult things to acquire, but many chipped in though they were confused at first by the idea of an overnight Medieval English Camp. The camp came together on the first weekend of September and it was a great success. We had songs and skits, Medieval nursery rhymes, and a whole lot of laughing that the expense of me and the 12 other ETAs that showed up to help. There was only one catch to the camp: deluge.
It has never rained in the morning in Maran. It has never rained through the night. It has never rained for more than 5 or 6 hours. Most storms come during the late afternoon and last for a couple hours, dump a ton of rain and then dissipate, creating a much cooler temperature. On this day however, the only day of the year that this has happened, it rained for 18 straight hours—hard. The camp began at 5:00 PM on Friday and ended at 5:00 PM on the next day Saturday. What occurred between those hours was nearly Biblical. An unbelievable amount of water fell from the sky from exactly 5:07 PM on Friday until 3:20 PM on Saturday. It was like some cosmic joke. It sidelined nearly all of my planed activities for the camp and made us retreat to the small pavilions for safety and some good old elongated plan B activities. During the night I had a number of students emerge from their tents (most had never camped before) and told me they were having SO much fun but that they had no chance of sleeping because of the amount of water in their tent. One group of boys told me that they really like camping because it was like swimming in your sleep. Sleeping in the water was not so fun for me, but it in no way brought down the attitudes of the students. It was amazing and I was so thankful that they were able to endure something like that. I know that in the States, students reactions to the constant downpour (and I mean DOWNPOUR) would have been less then enthusiastic.
In the end I could not have been more proud of my students and more surprised by the resolve of all those you traveled to us for the camp. Students went away happy and I learned some very important lessons: If you plan a parade in Malaysia, Malaysia WILL rain on your parade.
All things being said and done this early fall. I have had a marvelous time in Maran as I really feel natural in the life I am leading right now. Students are seemingly more excited or perhaps just more confident when they see me. They ask more than just the basic elevator questions. Now I get enthusiastic hello’s with maybe even some inside jokes intertwined. And it’s that kind of communication that makes the atmosphere at both the school and the greater community really change for me, and it’s that kind of worked up practice and results that makes me excited about teaching back home.
Until the next trip (the Philippines),