Wednesday, October 14, 2009

color conscious

after two weeks of observation (october 9, 2009):
the first few days i walked around in the school, i received many double takes.

let me share a conversation i had at least fifty times in my first week at SMAN 3.

Random teacher (to Ibu Zulfah): *nodding at me* siapa? ('who is that?')

Ibu Z: Oh! that is vidhi! she is our new english teacher from america. dari america, ya.

*Random teacher cautiously steps towards me and examines me from head to toe.*

Random teacher: cantik, ya. tapi hitam. orang india. ('very pretty. but black. she is from india)

Ibu Z: No, no she is from America. She can speak fluent American English.

Random teacher: *stares suspiciously* nga. orang india! lihat! ('no. shes indian. look!')

Me: saya dari america tapi orang tua dari india. saya tinggal america. ('i am from america, but my parents are from india. i live in america')

Random teacher: Ah. Tahu BOLLYWOOD? DANCE, YA? wooo, dance! show dance! bisa bahasa indonesia, seperti 0rang indonesia, bagus! (' can you dance like a bollywood? dance! you can speak indonesian! you are like indonesian! great!)

Me: sorry, i cant dance like a bollywood star. yes, i am learning to speak indonesian. *slightly amused smile*

end scene 1.

i am not exaggerating. this very scenario happened fifty times. the first time, i laughed and was very amused. by the 49th time, i was over it. in the end, when i divulge that my parents are from india and i was, indeed, born in india, the teacher's eyes light up and they point at me as if they have figured me out. puzzle solved. boxed, packaged, and sold. they were "right" all along. i always smile and try to explain that i am of both worlds but my sharp nose and slightly slanted eyes seem to speak louder than my words. and then the bell rings and i must go to class to answer more questions for "observation."

its very frustrating to never quite fit into a place. in india, i would never be considered indian enough. my walk is too western, my dress too modern. my ideas drenched in "corrupted american ideology." in the states, i am initially identified by my cultural background. my skin and face giving me away before i am ready to share. i find myself, especially here, reevauating my identity and what components are relative in creating an identity. sure ethnicity is one part--a genetic piece of the puzzle. but i dont think i even know what race is anymore. however, i love blending in whenever i walk down the road.

regardless of the frustrations, i feel that i am fulfilling my duties in being a cultural ambassador. many of my students have asked why i am not white, and this gives me a great platform where i can start talking about cultural diversity in the u.s. and although the teachers give me a hard time about being non-white, they have accepted me as a sister and "one of them." they love that i am darker and tell me i could be indonesian. they tell me i am "hitam-manis" ('black-sweet'), which means i am pretty and sweet even though i am black and tell me that they think i am much nicer than other bules 'foreigners' they have met.

no one knows very much english at all. the men at school love to tell me i am beautiful and ask me to go to the movies with them. (they are all married and innocent, so it is just funny and flattering). i randomly hear "i love you, miss vidhi" in the halls from the boys and the girls. sometimes i feel like i am teaching in a middle school as opposed to a high school. the women always compliment me on my figure, hair, and face. and everyone, EVERYONE, will always go up and over and around the corner out of their way to help me.

i have learned that a smile, even when youre really pissed off or tired or cold, can go a long way. talk about universal language =D the best thing about the indonesian smile is its genuine nature. you can tell that when they smile back, they really mean it. its the best.

smiling is great, even by myself.

the other day i was taking a shower at four in the afternoon when the power went out. this meant the water also stopped dripping (to say 'stopped flowing' would be a horrible misrepresentation of how fast the water comes out of the nozzle). i was all soaped up in my cockroach infested bathroom with nowhere to go. now i could have gotten really upset, but i decided to start laughing, just as my fellow indonesians have taught me to do, and the situation rectified itself in ten minutes or so.

i would really like to be fluent in indonesian. now. it is a slow and arduous process. i am learning but there are just so many words, haha!

today was my first day of actually teaching on my own in the classroom! i will write about the students and afterschool life next time.

til then, be proud of whatever color you are..purple, blue, brown, yellow, orange, red, black, or green. and yes. even white.

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