Monday, May 17, 2010

the sorrows of a wanderlust

It was one of those moments where time freezes and allows you to unabashedly take in the world.

“Miss? What will we do when you’re gone? Who will make English fun for us? Please don’t go.” She asked me these questions with tears swelling in her pleading eyes, their cinnamon color in vivid contrast against the pallor of her skin.

Her words soaked into my pores and solidified themselves—forming a grip on my heart. I took a second to breathe and watched all the students that surrounded me. My students. While I was busy teaching my students and roaming the maze that is Medan, I realized I had unwittingly given parts of myself away. These were secret parts, and no one else knew about their existence besides their keepers and me. At that moment, I felt as if I was dispersed across the whole world. I could see various pieces of me floating in the hymns of the Bostwana delta, resting in the nooks of the Jammie Steps in Cape Town, lounging languidly on Bali’s shoreline, hustling in Mumbai’s markets…and now they would be here too...bouncing in the walls of classrooms and speeding through the bells and honks of Medan. The problem with giving parts of yourself to people and places is that giving requires love. And the problem with falling in love is the inevitable good bye. Whether you are together for ten days, nine months, or fifty years—goodbyes are inescapable and so is their blinding pain.

I have learned a lot in Indonesia.

Life here has taught me inextinguishable patience. I’ve been slapped by the wind and tossed in the rains. When Medan shuts down due to a downpour, I have to pause too. Crouching under a roof, I can’t help but smile at the children that flood the streets as quickly as the water.

Where prayer has dominion, I was taught the benefits of religious assiduity and shown a glimpse of another way of being. Muslims have to pray five times a day. They stop whatever they are doing, wash themselves, and take five minutes to appreciate their life and say thanks to Allah. Taking twenty-five minutes out of everyday to appreciate the gifts of our world doesn’t seem like too much to me. The commitment to a higher power in this country is a beautiful thing. I have visited several mosques and have had open discussions on how the world should be according to the faith of Islam. Whenever I am in the midst of whatever I am doing and hear the azan (call to prayer)—I instantly feel a part of something Greater.

We’ve been together for over eight months and now the breakup is imminent. Ominous clouds grey the horizon and the end looms near. Her uncouth behavior contradicts the beauty of her azure pools, of her flawless peaks and valleys. Despite her many contradictions, I’m still smitten with Indonesia and her people.

And despite all that I have learned, I have not yet learned how to say goodbye.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dear America: Questions from x-9

The following is a compilation of questions I received from one of my classes after a discussion on stereotypes and American culture. They are really thoughtful good questions! I NEED your help to answer them!!

I promised the students that I would ask my friends from all over America to help me answer these questions. Please answer any that you can. I would love to have some diverse opinions :) I will meet with them again on Monday (May 17th) and hope to have some answers by then. I typed the questions verbatim.

E-mail me if you've got answers.

*free sex=sex before marriage

1) In America is there discrimination between white skin and black skin?

2) We know that America is a developed country. But what are the less things [the problems] in America?
Is everybody rich and the number of poverty very low?

3) Why do Americans think free sex is ok? Why doesn't the government forbid free sex? Why do Americans like free sex? Do you agree with free sex?

4) Why do the students in high school not use uniform like in Indonesia? Why aren't they use uniform? What is the benefit of no uniform?

5) What is the solution of different religion in America?

6) Why does America support Israel? Why America does not want to help Palestine people?

7) Why America can say what they want to?

8) What does American people look like?

9) Why in New York most of the people don't know their neighbors?

10) Why are the Americans so furious and fight in Afghanistan and Iraq? Why American people like to go to war with Arabian country?

11) What are the religions in America? Is everyone atheist?

12) Do you think abortion is a good solution? Do you think it means kill someone [Do you think abortion is killing a baby]?

13) Does America ever have natural disaster? Like earthquake?

14) What is the meaning of liberty for American people?

15) What kind of ethnicities are in America?

16) What is the night life like in America?

17) What is special American food?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

two truths, a lie, and massive failure in the classroom

warning: this post is not a happy one.

i have three weeks left in indonesia and as expected, i am feeling overly emotional and dramatic. the fact that i am leaving soon exacerbates both happy feelings and frustrated ones.

i decided this week we would play a simple game called "two truths and a lie." most of my students had semester exams this week, so i figured an easy game would be received well.

on the board i wrote:

Two Truths and a Lie
1) i can cook fried rice.
2) i played basketball in high school.
3) i have one sister who is 14 years old.

i explained to them that one of these sentences about me was untrue or false. i then explained that two of these sentences about me were true.

after i read each sentence, the students had to stand up if they believed the sentence i had just read was a lie. a lot of students thought that number two was a lie, which i found pretty funny.

(the lie was number 3, by the way. i have a 14 year old brother.) i explained that they would all write their own 3 sentences and come to the board one by one. the class would then guess which sentence the student wrote was a lie.


apparently not.

here are some of the answers i got from students:

class 10-4
1) i am a student at sman 3
2) i can walk
3) i can fly

i persevered. "guys! you want to write sentences that could be true or false. you want your classmates to guess! otherwise the game isn't really fun, right?"

"oh yeah. yes miss!!!"

class 10-5
1) i am spiderman
2) i have two eyes
3) i hate school

class 10-6
1) i have one father
2) i have one mother
3) i have twenty brother and sister

after the student wrote his/her sentences on the board, he or she would read them to the class. the class would then vote on which one they thought was the lie.

when y.z. disclosed that his first sentence, "i am spiderman," was indeed false, the whole class cheered. they cheered uproariously. i was so confused. didn't they already know he wasn't spiderman? didn't they already know they guessed correctly?

i guess it would be different if i was teaching elementary school? because than i would understand why my students cheer for certain things. like when their classmate reveals that his lie was that he could fly.

how about i tell you about last week.
last week, i had my students write out sentences for charades.
one student wrote, "a man make water for toilet."

really, kiddos?

maybe the smell of fresh cut grass and summer lemonade is clouding my senses. maybe the thought of running into my parents arms at the airport is making these last few weeks particularly hard.

there are no schedules here. my classes are constantly cancelled. teachers get paid for extra-curricular activities they never lead. men get to smoke and judge women who do. cheating in school and on spouses is expected. money that could be going into education is used to buy snacks for meetings. my school has power outages every day, but the glitzy mall Sun Plaza is always air conditioned and glamorous.

im tired of all the stares i receive. i don't really understand why people here stare at me anyways. most indonesians think i am indonesian. im brown. i have black hair. and i dress appropriately for the culture. so why are you STILL glaring at me? if i was white, or pink, or green i would understand.

im also tired of not fitting in --even when i look like i fit in. the other day, on my way home from bandung, i came across a group of americans in the bandung airport. they were on their way to bali. their dress, accents, and navy blue passports gave them away. i was excited to meet some americans so i walked up and said hello.

me: * unusually bubbly for 5 a.m.* "hi! are you guys from america?"

some lady in a gold print VEGAS t-shirt: "yeah"

me: "awesome, im from the states too. what are you guys doing here?"

VEGAS lady: "we are going to bali. what are you doing here?"

me: "oh, i'm an english teacher on sumatra."

VEGAS lady's husband: "where are you from?"

me: "im from the states. indiana."

VEGAS husband: "from india?"

me: "no, indiana. my parents are from india."

VEGAS husband: "that's it! you didn't look...well you looked a little different."

me: "awesome. have a nice trip."

my fellow indonesians aren't the only ones that need a lesson on u.s. diversity. p.s. wtf arizona?


im sure i will look back on all of this in a few weeks and lightheartedly laugh. its just been a rough few weeks. memories are always fonder as time drudges on. the past has a tendency to become romanticized.

but for now, i am not feeling any romance. i am very much looking forward to peeing in my bathroom at home and not have a rat crawl out of the drain.
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