Monday, August 22, 2011

Long Time No Blog: YES Support Network, Challenges and Cockaroaches

Goodness gracious- it seems I've been slacking off. Ten days without a post- and so much to tell! If there's time, I'll put pictures, too. Some of them have been corrupted though, so I can't get them. Among the corrupted files; the weddings and the neighborhood.

Let's catch up: It's the 22nd day of Ramadan and I haven't been fasting for about a week, although it's been strongly pressured and encouraged. I'm sure I could, but I have begun to feel lazy in the morning, as I have accommodated myself more and more to the sleeping patterns of the family. I'm going to bed at 10:30, 11, and 11:30 when I can manage, and getting up at 5 is very difficult for me because that's essentially 5 hours of restful sleep. Today I've had only water, and not much of that. I wonder if I'll regret not fasting later, from what people have told me I probably will, but right now it's just beyond my reach.

Somewhere I haven't been lazy is school. The classes I'm taking are still above my head as far as language, but I'm catching every 5th word or so, and sometimes I recognize entire phrases spoken and whole sentences written! This is very encouraging. Malay is very simple, fortunately; I feel so bad for the YES abroad kids in Thailand, Thai is so hard. With me, I brought the mp3 files of Teach Yourself Arabic on my iPod, and I might do that during Islam class. I'm in the library for that one. I tried batik last week, and that was fun even though I failed miserably. All smudgy, the colors blending and swirling so the daffodils are partially purple and the background is partially yellow. Really, I think it was a good first attempt. As for the classes I'm teaching, I feel like I should be payed for the time I spend planning and teaching. All lesson plans for the two English classes at school are okay-ed by the head of the English Department, a very nice lady. The lesson plans for the two University English classes take me around an hour each, then I go back and revise them a few times, tweaking and such. The French classes, well, I'm pretty much winging it. I've got a plan, but I don't really use it. I hope the workload associated with these classes lets up once Ramadan ends; the lack of food is exhausting and makes people cranky before their time.You know how important it is to have sufficient food for good learning, everyone does. That's why before the SATs and NECAPs and such there's always a breakfast.

Whew. That's one of the major challenges. Good thing I could vent to some of my YES country-partners, they're so supportive! We got together last Saturday for a few hours to talk among ourselves and with the Alumni, then 2/3 of us went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It was awesome, and the others can vouch for my Harry's-alive-and-he's-going-to-kick-some-ass dance. It looks a great deal like Hank Green's Happy Dance, but done from a seat. We were talking a lot about the challenges we're having, and we realized that although we were comparing, there were many times where the situations we so unique that we could only realize the diversity of the situations. There were some parts where we laughed, and before we left I cried a little, just to myself. There's a certain freedom in being able to talk to fluent English-speakers, I used all the big words I could think of, trying to get rid of them. Ah, for the release that comes with going to the city. We met another American in the bookstore (YAY BOOKSTORE!!!) and he told us in a strong midwestern accent about how he got there. He's also on a scholarship, and he sympathized with my dismay at how nobody knows what sociology is in Malaysia. Whenever people ask me my ambition (which they do all the time here) I say that I'm an aspiring sociologist. Even if you don't really know what that means, if you speak English well, you can pick it apart for a definition. Socio- like social, and -ology- like the study of, and -ist, like the person involved. So at the most basic level, it's the study of societies.

Ah, well. Too bad. One of the challenges I've had to face that I meant to converse with the other students about was money. Money money money money... I'm having to do personal finances at 15. I feel like I'm almost mature enough to do this. The 18-year-old in the group also thinks she's almost mature enough to do this.

Speaking of maturity, I've heard it said that when you can admit your shortcomings and weaknesses you are truly mature. Already here in the first month, I've had my weaknesses revealed. The first week at school I was reduced to tears by a shocking presentation on sexual education (it was mostly the dead babies). Now, I've met my other weakness and I've had to address the cultural differences about that. I hate cockroaches. They're perhaps the most disgusting, dirty, dangerous bug I know of. Earwigs come in a close second. At least with snakes and spiders you can justify fear an say they might be poisonous, but I'm truly freaked out by cockroaches because my fear scares me. It's a little like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where he is most frightened by the bogart in the form of a Death Eater. I'm afraid of fear. Fear is perhaps my greatest fear. Too bad for me cockroaches sometimes turn up in houses in developed parts of a tropical country and exist pretty much everywhere in underdeveloped parts of the same country. I've been told I need to get over my fear of cockroaches, otherwise it will be very difficult to go to the village this Hari Raya. I'm scared that I'm scared.

On a lighter note, I've just finished the scan. All the pictures are corrupted. I'll have to take more, then. :)

Much Learning, Much Experience, and Much Love.

Friday, August 12, 2011

First Mont in Review: A Short Reflection

First, let's have some pictures!

The Orientation in DC, the Everybody Picture!
In front of the USA Malaysian Embassy in DC!

At the Gateway Orientation with the YES Malaysia Group!

A Sculpture in DC (A Little out of Order to Screw You Up)

At the Hong Kong Airport Museam!

The First Welcome to Malaysia in the KL Airport!

Oooooo, Currency! (It looks like Monopoly Money)

Whew, more later, I promise.

Now for the Actual Reflection part;

When the first month anniversary of any major event rolls around, it's only natural to respond with a celebration in your heart and in your head. I began today leisurely, waking up around 6.00 because I wasn't fasting today (it's very considerate of Islam to allow breaks in religious obligation for women who are menstruating, pregnant or breastfeeding). This was the 8 hours I've been craving, and that set me up for a successful day. I spent some classes in the library, where I finished a large part of the organization of my Malay terms and I remembered that today marks my first month in Malaysia. I came home to hurry up and get ready for my first University English Class. I was teaching Conversational English to the employees at my host mother's office, which went fabulously. After the lesson, I worked on the next week's lesson plan for my Tuesday English, Thursday French, and Friday English language classes I'm teaching. I'm starting to get the hang of teaching this, overcoming a few challenges along the way. Namely the language barrier.

But that's what the whole program is about, isn't it? My host father favors the phrase "learning process", whereas I like to think of it as a progressive movement to a deeper understanding of the world around the individual, forging bonds and making positive impressions; less a process to be followed, more a journey to be discovered. Let's see where this journey has taken me so far in this full month, shall we?

Firstly, the gateway orientation preparing our little Malaysia group with some last-minute bits was a blast; so well organized and facilitated and so informative while catering to our emotional needs as well. We were all nervous to some extent, and the community we shared helped us bond. I love my YES Abroad Malaysia sisters! Our commute to Hong Kong was incredibly awkward. "Classy" is not a word I would use to describe us. We arrived in Asia worn out and happily exhausted. Arriving in KL, we got through customs after a long line and much more awkwardness. We were oriented, again, at a hotel in KL where we met our host families on the fifteenth. Then I slept for five days.. I am eternally grateful to my host family for letting me get acquainted with the time difference (12 hours) and being as patient as could be for me and my one-loop emotional roller coaster. I began school soon after arrival; the next Wednesday held much confusion and many introductions and that Friday held my first major culture shock in the form of a presentation on sexual education. After you see the worst-case scenarios of a society, it's hard to get out of that slump. Fortunately, then came the weddings- they filled the Weekend! There were a lot of questions asked on my part that first week, and with every question I have, more questions emerge until it becomes an exponential growth of things I feel I need o know. Again, a great thanks to my entire host family (nuclear and extended) for their patient, pleasant explanations and counseling. All this before Ramadan, mind you!

As you may know, Ramadan is the fasting month, generally taking up the month of August, but it varies because Islam runs on a lunar calendar. I've been fasting with some success and some challenges, but as my natural father mentioned, I really wouldn't enjoy myself unless there were things there to challenge me. Being here has opened my mind to so much of the Muslim culture already, and in studying and researching and listening I've been able to wrap my head around the immediate situations that have sculpted the main culture in this multi-cultured country. The post-arrival orientation was held to reinforce these explanations, and to reiterate the goals and values of AFS. This country and it's inhabitants have welcomed me with open arms that have only just begun to embrace me. There was an awkward tension before the trust was there, but now I feel more accepted than at first, because now some of the novelty has worn off. Now they can get to know the person that I am instead of the person they assume I am. I've had to change and mask that person to keep myself safe and maintain a pleasent demeanor and my personal sanity, but I'm sure it will be worth it in the end; mostly because I know I won't lose the genuine things about me in this adventure.

The strange things I have retained get me funny, questioning looks though. Habits like wearing socks inside the house and keeping my backpack with me at all times in school are habits that die slowly. I've needed the security provided b the friendship bracelets I've made and the Ukulele I've been playing, and blogging has really helped me reflect on the story so far.Also, people here don't make postcards, even though their newspaper is just FULL of amusing photographs. If you want one, email me your address and I'll get one to you. It's putting up with these benign things I do that reassures me of my host family's support of AFS and my personal experience. My gratitude extends to my natural family for their positive, sensitive advice and loving support that make the separation easier for all of us. With those safety nets, I'm protected from a long hard fall to the ground, but it's the security blankets of the friends that I've got that keep the net from digging into my skin. Also, I've got to give credit to YES Abroad and all it's magnificent haphazard organization and AFS and all its crazy mafia hierarchy and AFS Malaysia's incredible serendipity.

In conclusion, I'm exhausted and happy and I miss having people say 'Bless You' when I sneeze, but now that I've got a pattern, I was work up from there. I'm an American in Malaysia, and I love you all dearly.

Re-Organized Priorities; Blogging, Obviously, Does Not Come First

10 August 2011 2:07 PM
I’ve had to change all my various clocks and watches back to a 12-hour clock instead of a standard that I’m used to because, as it turns out, Malaysians don’t really use the 24-hour time scheme, although I find it extremely usefull. Speaking of time, I have been in dire need to prioritizing mine.
When I first arrived, I thought I was going to have a time scheme very similar to mine at home because the host family seemed about as involved in jobs and community service, as well as family time, as my natural family. Also, school started around the same time and ended thereabouts too. I assumed (correctly) that I would be spending some time after school studying or teaching or otherwise helping. I thought that not much would change, ad I was pretty used to doing various housecleaning duties in regular and irregular intervals.
Now that I’ve had time to adjust, courtesy of my host family, I realize that there is a larger stress on some things than others and this family, in fact, works very differently than mine, despite our core values being aligned. We all value spending time together, community activities and the success of a family based on the success and happiness of the individual members. Because of Ramadan and the need to prepare for various exams with extra classes and for me to work on my teaching and my language skills, there have been some big differences.
Let’s take me through an average (Ramadan) day, here at home. These are all estimations, of course.
We get up as a family around 4:45, and there’s a few wake-up calls for the younger children. Then, we shuffle downstairs to eat the heavy breakfast the live-in maid has so dutifully prepared, and that finishes around 5:15 because the sun comes up at 5:30. I go back to my room and read a few pages of a book to get me all the way awake gently as I like it, then I make up the beds. Then I might sleep, or go downstairs and spend some early-morning time with the kids that are up. Around 6:45, I take a shower and use the bathroom very briefly, often I’m out in 10 minutes. I get dressed in the uniform that’s clean and hanging in my room so it’s not wrinkled and get my schoolbooks together. We leave the house around 7:05 or 7:10, depending on how ready we are. We walk to school; me and my eldest host sister. School runs from 7:30 to 12:30 during Ramadan. I come home or spend time after school talking to teachers and organizing things, or teaching English or French. English is on Tuesdays, French on Thursdays. I might get home at 1, 1:30, or 2. I walk home, and I arrive pretty tired. I generally take a longer shower, around 10 minutes, and get dressed in something vaguely presentable. I usually wash my school uniform, then, and hang it out to dry. I then bring in the laundry and fold it if it’s dry. From there, I usually nap for about 30 minutes and plan for lessons for another 30 minutes. I spend around 1 hour on the internet, mostly blogging and researching things like Islam, Malay, and teaching methods. I might nap again or read for a while and offer my help downstairs if I’m not exhausted. That usually brings me to breaking fast, where I help a small amount with the food preparations (i.e., clearing the table, getting the food from the kitchen to the living room, getting out the drinks, waking napping kids for dinner), and we go out to buy the food as any number of family members going to the Ramadan Bazaars. We come back and stare at the food until the call to prayer at 7:30. We chow down and after, I’ll wash or rinse or dry or put away (or any combination of the four) the dishes. Generally, there’s a resting period for the food to settle, so the family might talk if there’s nothing of upmost importance going on. I’ve found this is the best time to ask questions that I’ve been thinking about. I usually take a shower after there’s a pause in the conversation. Then the family gets ready to go out to the Mosque to pray. I’ve watched Abu at home a few times, but there’s been a female companion who can’t participate in the prayer there mostly. I catch up on come CNN and BBC news, and talk to whomever is with me. I might play a little ukulele or, if it’s Sunday, Skype with my natural parents at home. Then, the family gets home ad they usually have more food, so they’ll eat and I’ll get ready for bed, because I usually go to sleep around 10. I’m drinking a lot after breaking fast, so I’ll use the bathroom again and brush my teeth and promptly fall asleep. It’s too bad I’m so tired, because my family stays up long after I’ve crashed.
Whew, that was long. In order to get these things straight, I’ve had to re-organize my priorities (such as eating breakfast later because that aids in digestion and not relaxing immediately after I arrive home) and the lifestyle changes will probably be changed again when Ramadan is over. I’ve also had to change a lot of my habits, so far. Things like blowing my nose and asking direct questions have had to be postponed until I can figure out a way to do them discreetly. Well, I’m due downstairs to finish folding and washing- my schedule as a little thrown off today because I took a nap immediately after my shower.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Today At Home, Postcards for All!

Today, I was sick so I wrote this bit up:

08 August 2011
                There is no end to the interesting things, here in Malaysia. I don’t even get sick the same way. Like this morning, I woke up nauseas and had a light breakfast of an orange and some water. I couldn’t stomach the rice or meat offered on the table. Walking to the kitchen to the living room made me feel dizzy, so I sat down and drank more water. Then, the television was turned on and I watched some CNN for a few minutes before the need to be sick filled my gut and my head. Usually, after someone vomits, they feel a little better, if exhausted from the effort. This was not so in my case, so I lied down on the bed and layered on the two blankets. The temperature here is around 85 F at night and early in the morning, and I was frigid. I wiped cold sweat from my face and arms a few times before I fell asleep. I woke up around 10 in the morning and with 5 hours of sleep (breakfast was around 5) I had more energy. Since its fasting month, I’m feeling terribly guilty for drinking water, but I’m sick and I’m sure the prophet Mohammed would understand.  So, with this new energy, I’ve straightened the beds and cleaned the bathroom before taking a shower because these are the things I used during and immediately after I was sick. Coming downstairs, I scared the bejeebies out of Bibi, the live-in maid and upon my pantomimed explanation she gave me some gel to rub on my tummy that smells like Vicks and Cinnamon. She is also feeling ill, poor thing. I’m doing all I can to help her, here, without letting any of my other responsibilities drop. That’s why it’s the whole bathroom and not just the toilet that was cleaned. I hope that’s enough for today, because I’ve got just enough energy to write this. The internet is down again- otherwise I would’ve caught up on the news, maybe see how things are going with the US debt crisis and the riots in… well… everywhere. England and Syria and Libya and Malaysia were the headlines.
                I’ve been curious about the fasting month of August, which is Ramadan in the Islamic calendar, since I first learned of it’s presence in Islam. What I found out before I came was that the fasting is during the daylight hours and drinks count, and that was the extent of my curiosity. Now that I’m here, I’ve been doing what I always do when I want to know; asking questions and doing research. Before I could ask the deep question of ‘Why’, I had to ask ‘Where, How, and Who’. Ramadan takes place around August, beginning with the new moon of the month. The Islamic calendar is lunar, suggesting that some of the practices are tied to the pagan rituals that must have existed in the pre-Abrahamic Religion age. In Arabic countries where Islam flourishes, the rituals and practices are linked very closely with the situations in the weather and the growing and planting, wet and dry seasons. The timing makes sense when looked at practically and theologically at the same time. Muslims fast during this time because in the northern hemisphere around the equator, the rainy season has just come to a close, and everything is growing at a ferocious rate that will slow during the dry season. What better way to make sure that there’s enough food for the dry months than to not eat it all up during the last damp month? And what better way to measure when the dry deadline will come than by a lunar calendar, which had shorter and more comprehensible cycles that correlate to the presence of water? Fasting now makes sense, which is why some Muslims will say how it just feels right, socio-psychologically and theologically. It shows reverence and good communal planning skills to fast, now. All Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions have a time to plant, a time to reap, a time for war, a time for peace, and speak of things in a cyclical manner that dates back to before there were literal ‘dates’. A large part of this cycle correlates to the growing seasons and solstices that were the staple measure of time in pre-religious times, and fasting comes naturally to a society where food becomes scarce during a specific time. Christians have Lent, a time to abstain from meat, that dates back to when meat was to be saved, preserved and prized for later when it would be sacrificed. Judaism has times when one eats little, as the Israelites in their migration from Egypt had only manna, as well as other established times where there are partial fasts that are compulsory.
With this abstinence from that which keeps us alive and human, the accepted idea is that we might transcend our human wants and needs and become at a higher level of enlightenment. Once you remove the puppet’s strings, he can fly with the grace of God(s), as fasting is also practiced in polytheisms. Hinduism and Buddhism have their fasts and their various abstinences that are planned for certain times with the same transcendentalist goal. Islam just takes a different route to this enlightened place.
Islam has included in its teachings from the prophet, detailed exceptions to the rule, and defining who, exactly, is to fast and when. Children and pregnant and nursing mothers are excused. Those who are menstruating are also excused from the practice, as they are not clean and may not prostrate themselves before God, anyway. It’s a system that’s been in place to keep the questions to a minimum, and working off the needs of humanity (to reproduce, mainly), one can find the trends between these practices and pre-religion. This, by my experience and research, is really cool. Yay Pagans for establishing not only a system of time that matches the cyclical pattern of our years, but also a way to live with that situation in the universe instead of against it!

Today I'm writing Postcards, so if you want one and I don't have your adress, email me :)


Various Tidbits and Back-stories: From the Trundle Bed

That's right y'all, I'm sleeping in a trundle bed. For those of you (Americans) who don't know what that is, it's a bed that's raised from the ground so a large drawer can roll under it. Inside of that drawer, there is another mattress. It's a great space saver, if  little dusty. Atch-oo! I miss people saying "Bless You".

So, my internet use has been narrowed, so these entries will probably less frequent, but I will try to write every day or every other day if I'm busy. Which I am.

Anyway, here are some things from earlier this week:

4 August 2011 14:25
The internet is currently unavailable, but I’ll post this one later. Let’s title it This American Life in Malaysia and Other Comforts of Home.
Today was an excellent day, despite the lack of sleep. It was difficult to get to sleep after my host parents arrived home because of some serious indigestion and the heaviness in one’s stomach that accompanies bouts of nausea. Luckily, my host mother is psychic and told me how good Papayas are for digestive issues, completely out of the blue. Unluckily, I was already full from the Breaking-fast of Ramadan. Today was the fourth day- and so far I’ve made it ¾ days fasting entirely. The first day I took one water bottle to school instead of two. So, at school, I slept a little. That’s an understatement- I slept more than I’d like to admit. My eyes would just not stay open because 3 hours of sleep and an empty tummy were things that my conscious mind couldn’t take. Well, that coupled with the lack of power in the classroom, rendering the open air quiet, calm, warm and stagnant. This is the recipe for sleepyness. Fortuitously, my kind classmate realized the trouble I was having and told me to go to sleep. I did, and missed all of Civics. I spent Islam in a semi-conscious state, then retuned to on-and-off dozing in Malay. I’ve finished the first segment of my Malay self-education in the form of writing every relevant term from the Bilingual Dictionary into a set of two small notebooks. So many cognates, so little time!
After I was rested enough to carry on a decent conversation, it was time for English, or Bahasa Ingeriss. Literally, that’s how they call it. Bahasa means language, by the way. In English Class, we’re taking phrases and putting them where they should logically fit in paragraphs. I remember doing something very similar in first grade, and I was finishing people’s sentences and correcting their grammar at age 5. Ah, well. At least I can help my classmates. I finished the assignment quickly so I could go onto the next phase of my Malay and transfer the terms from alphabetical order to categories. The first is Food: Subcategory Utensils and Times, then Food: Subcategory Ingredients, then Food: Subcategory Dishes and Celebratory Foods. This will be a long week. I was called on in class (maybe I should say ‘called out’) about the notes I put on my English test last Thursday. I had written all over it, making notes about the incorrectness of the correct answers and analyzing the Paragraphs we had to translate information from onto an Organizer. There was a bit about languages, and the origins of written language, and I had a ball with my little margin-paragraphs and assemblies of arrows directing the notes. There was also a bit about the Sumerian impact on things like written language and currency. This was my gem, as the research paper I did on The Fertile Crescent was easily the best bit of work from my middle school years. I love Ancient Civilization History. My teacher read all these notes, and said that I must be well-read. I’ve only heard my (natural) mother use that term, probably because it’s old. I savored this moment as both a praise and a warning, I must remember to not get carried away next time.
Something I can get carried away with, though, is English Lessons, where I’m in charge of what I’m teaching. I’ve got my Conversational English Lesson Plan worked out, and it’s been approved by the nice teacher who acts as the head of the English department. It was a rough sketch, but it was really directed at me as a teacher. Since it’s conversational, I’m starting with introducing myself and giving some background on my English Education and level of Literacy, then I’ll move into everyone’s favorite subject; themselves. The kids will introduce themselves to me, and I think I might act out different characters with which they begin conversations, just to look at the cultural differences and mess with them. I credit and blame my most dramatic French teacher for this- she taught me how, in a classroom, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I’ll be a nice old lady, a cranky landlord around 30, a 10 year old girl, a 15 year old boy, you know, the usual people these kids will be meeting. There’s a fine line between eccentric and schizophrenic, though, and I won’t push my limits. I did push my limits today, though, with my French Class. I tried to explain to them how we’re starting simply and right now, My Name Is… is very complicated. They want to know what m’appelle means, and their English is just outside the range of understanding the term ‘reflexive verb’. It was fun, and I met some nice people, but I’m going to tone it down next week. Less “Bonjour”, more “Une, Deux, Trois”.
I feel as though my English is being saved from this country by these blog entries, which I’m writing at a low-level for me. It’s relaxing, and I can blather on using words like, well, blather. Also keeping my sanity and English Skills is my updating with CNN, BBC, and The Comedy Central News Team. I’m keeping my vocabulary in order with This American Life, which is ironic but comforting.
It’s 15:00, and I need to bring in some Laundry. This has been Peggy Desjarlais for My Life as a Teenage Exchange Student. Join us when I’ve got the time to discuss whatever I feel like.

4 August 2011 15:50
I’m Ba-ack! Mostly because there isn’t any laundry to bring in- I’ve done my school uniform and I need to record some things or study Malay. I’m too tired to study Malay right now. I’ll tell you- not eating is exhausting, and not drinking leaves this girl parched for anything. I know that I’ll drink a lot of water with dinner tonight, because the sugar in the tea might have set my up for the energy crash this morning. I should really stop typing about not eating or drinking. It’s making me hungry.
So, I’ll move on to what I’ve been thinking of in the back of my mind. Perhaps getting it out will straiten things. I’ve been considering my immediate position of popularity at this school and how reluctant I was to take it. In my very limited experience, having everyone know your name and your situation hasn’t worked out well. People assume they know you and want to involve you in things that you can’t get out of because you now belong to the student body or the press if you’re a celebrity. If you slip up, everyone knows about it because it’s not Peggy that did it, it was the interesting idea of Peggy.
Peggy hasn’t ever really been pretty. The idea of Peggy at this school has random boys asking her to dinner and asking id she thinks they are hot. Peggy’s not so smart, she just works really hard for the things she wants and can plan in advance when she feels the matter is urgent. The idea of Peggy is a genius for getting 64% on her last Science (Sines) test, and then being confused because the teacher gave her 5 ringgit for getting above 50%. The idea of Peggy handled it with finesse, while Peggy really struggled under the moral implications of taking what amounts to be a bribe to do well. The idea of Peggy will assume it’s an incentive. Peggy has never been socially adept, but the idea of Peggy remembers names, faces, and remembers you told her that your auntie lives in Canada- which is just like the US, right?
Most of all, Peggy has never been popular. She’s never ad to deal with the gossip that people seem to thrive on here. It’s really too bad, coming from America and not being well-versed in gossip. The idea of Peggy is also clueless about that, because Peggy and her idea have no experience with popularity. The idea of Peggy will remain at the school, here in Malaysia, just like the idea of Jessica and the idea of Thelma will linger long after they’ve gone. It’s a lot easier to associate yourself with a simple idea instead of a system as complex as an entire person, complete with experiences and ideas of her own. This is true for many things, and leads to unfortunate associations. Let me explain-
Humans and other animals can only hold so much information. It’s essential to the evolution of a species through its continuation to simplify the information so the being can make the split-second decisions that say the rustling in the bushes is a tiger, not a puppy. It’s a great deal easier to say Tiger or Puppy, Foe or Friend, and Fight of Flight, then to accept that the situation is more complicated. It’s a vegetarian Tiger, or a Puppy with rabies, perhaps. We draw on the simplified information to make judgments about people, very much so. That’s why the criminal’s face is blurred out- if you see it accompanied by the word ‘guilty’, it doesn’t matter what you hear in court; your simple information is the word ‘guilty’. If you only know the very simplified facts of something of significant gravity like the Attacks at the World Trade Center on 9/11, then you probably only know so much; keywords like Terrorist, Death, Muslim, and Destruction. You don’t notice that in context (which is, essentially, complicated), it’s the Extremist Muslims that are Terrorist, and they stand for a sect of an otherwise acceptable Religion. So let’s try to complicate ourselves, have many facets, so we can understand this many faceted planet and these little bits of culture that, if we remained simple, we would never comprehend on a level beyond the keywords; “Different” and “Scary”. When I head Malaysia, I noticed that my knowledge of this place was incredibly simple. It was dangerously simple, so I did some complicating in the form of in-depth research. I found that Malaysia has about as man facets as the average 12-year old. There’s this naivety among the people…
But that’s a whole other topic that I’m sure I’ll go into when I next feel only strong enough to type and think. Until then, complexity is the essence of true understanding, and only the wise can simplify accurately.

And now...

5 August 2011 14:14
It’s Friday, Friday, and I’ve got to get down on Friday. In this case, that means getting down to business. I’ve got to revise my French lessons and limit it all to children’s phrases and colors. Maybe I’ll include some food vocabulary. Whatever I end up working out, it will be much simpler. As it turns out, the Peer Group really isn’t interested in learning any languages, and I forgot to ask about the board because the teacher in charge of the peer group was absent. She seems like a nice enough person, but she’s been gone half the time I go to find her. I’ve got my revised English Lessons with me, and I’m constantly making notes and crossing them out trying to decide how to run this show. I hope it won’t just be me in the classroom on the first day- I’d like some sort of translator so I know that the kids are telling me something important, so urgent they can’t use English. Every note I’ve made I’ve crossed out, though. I’m a little anxious. What if the kids don’t like me? What if they can’t understand me at all?
I need to stop worrying about that, because I’ve got more business to take care of. There’s a re-orientation that’s happening this weekend, but only for Bangi and the KL chapters. We’ll be meeting somewhere and listening to a review of the various goals and expectations of AFS, and staying overnight somewhere. I assume it will be a hotel, but I’m open to the idea of a youth hostel. I’m really excited to see those chapter-mates at this get-together and see how their coping with the extreme concentration of Islam and all Malaysia has had to offer them so far. I assume they’ll be feeding us, but I don’t know how that will run because it’s Ramadan and I’m fasting with e family. This is the 5th day, and my 4th without food or water during the daylight hours. It’s easy enough here, mostly because you don’t hear people complain about how hungry they are and you won’t see people eating. Everyone is fasting, weather they are Muslim or not, in this town, and those who are not fasting for real only eat in their homes out of respect for the majority. That’s so considerate!
Sorry I won’t be able to post this entry or the last one until late this evening or tomorrow; our family’s WiFi has been restricted due to a collective overuse. This also means my pictures will be delayed further. Too bad, because I’ve been channeling my mother and taking shots of every nice plant I see. There’s a flowering tree in the neighborhood that is just so photogenic. I walk past it every day and you could swear it was fake the thing is so perfect. The flowers are like sculpted clay, painstakingly painted by the hand of an expert artist with only the colors yellow and white. Ah, for the glories of a tropical climate and the riches of this Earth. That’s got to be a quote somewhere.
I’m thinking of renaming this blog because it has recently dawned on me how full of itself it sounds if you don’t recognize the reference. ‘My life as a Teenage Exchange Student’ is a reference to the show from the early 2000s, ‘My life as a Teenage Robot’ be the same animators as The Fairly Odd Parents. It was so great and it really expressed how ignorant people are coming into a situation at a level they are not prepared for. For the main character, Jenny (the robot), she’s about teenager size and, well, a robot. For me, I’m coming to Malaysia with only baby Malay and very few appropriate social skills. I lean quickly, but not quickly enough that I’m not apologizing throughout the day.
Sorry=Maaf. That’s a glottal stop in between, there. Mah-ahf is the English-ized pronunciation, but you’d really need to hear it to know how to say it. I think Basque is the most hipster language, but for Americans you’ve got to say Malay is hipster in its essence.

That was then, and this is now. Now being 11:00 at night Sunday. I can't go to sleep yet, I've got to record my experiences. I can sleep in T. Islam (Taught exclusively in Malay and the teacher has no English skills), everyone else does, anyway.

Today I returned from a Post-Arrival Orientation, organized my the chapter leaders of Bangi and Kuala Lumpur. The chapter leaders of Bangi are my host parents (so I better not screw up!) and the accommodations were almost comedic. There were 12 of us students and 2 adult-figures in two bedrooms with one mattress each and a few comforters that acted as little mattresses for those who slept in the living-room part. All together, the place was about 3 small rooms and 2 bathrooms. We reestablished the goals and rules of AFS and were re-briefed on things we'd learned a million times, and we got to share experiences and music and finally hug. Nobody hugs here, and it was nice to have another person's arms around you for all of 5 seconds.

Also discovered at the orientation was that I've lost a great deal of weight (I didn't notice except for the way my jeans have been sagging) and the Italians wanted to know how I did it, and that I look like Drew Barrymore, as I was told around 5 times. Haha, I WISH! She's the one genuinely beautiful and talented actress I know of today. Sigh... I hope I can channel some of her talent tomorrow, which is when I make my speech to the school. Wish me luck!


Monday, August 1, 2011

Classes to Teach, Fasting to Accomplish, Computers to Fool

Ah, what a glorious August this is! I began today at 4 am to a breakfast of rice and beef. Admittedly, I was a little confused. But all was forgotten when I remembered today was the first of Ramadan! This is the fasting month for Muslims, who see is as the kind of purification ritual that is present in various ways through every major religion. Abrahamic religions do it out of a want to cleanse themselves and take away the power Earthly goods have over them in order to transcend their daily lives, as well as to understand the empathy they must feel to donate to charities to end world hunger. Pagan rituals dictate that the self-control necessary to fast is a feat meaning the man, woman or child is a good human. There are variances on these themes, but they all come back to the same ideas, the same practice at heart. Still, I thirst in this tropical climate. So I brought only one water bottle to school today instead of two. And I haven't eaten yet. Wish me luck!

So much happened today, it was hard to keep up. Had some hardcore napping time in the classroom for the first time. I deemed it culturally acceptable because there were 5 other kids in a 20-kid classroom with their heads on the desks and drool on their sleeves. I kid about the drool. I took a short snooze in the morning assembly (which is announced exclusively in Malay) and then again after Islam and after I'd copied another hundred terms into my little book of words I need to know. I went through English class and another form of Islam (again spending the time copying and napping because Islam is in Malay) after that. After school, I went to the Guidance office where I met the nice teacher who's helping me organize the French lessons I'll be teaching the "Peer Group", the kids who help the teachers out and get to wear a snazzy purple uniform. I hope my french is good enough to teach them what I learned in 6 months over the course of about 11. After all, they are going from Malay to English to French for every thing. I've got a lesson plan written out for 8 different blocks of classes, which should work out to around 16-20 meetings.
I'm also teaching English to some kids at my school starting next Tuesday. I've got to make up a plan for that, too. Since i'll be teaching conversational English, I'm going to start out with some icebreakers and some getting-to-know-yous, then moving into some motivational-type activities to get these kids out of their shy little bubbles. Even the teachers agree, the kids in forms 1 and 2 know how to write English and know how to speak it, they just don't because they're shy. The kids are mortified of messing up. I could attribute this to a larger, more socio-religious thing, but I'll save that rant for later. For now, we've got a bunch of 11-13 year-olds with some seriously small self-confidences. After this year is over, we'll rejoin next year and start doing the really fun stuff. We'll move past role playing and into improv and maybe some skits. This, I hope, will give them a feel for the American English I know and love.

Something I've been missing recently is the Comedy Central News team. I'm watching BBC and CNN here more than I do in the states, but it's just not the same. Up till now, I didn't try to get past the country restriction that's on sites like Netflix and Fox, but I managed to get to Comedy Central and I love it. So glad that I'm not missing out on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I've also been up on the This American Life Podcast. All of these things have brought me back into my zone where I am content to be a citizen of the world. By the way, if America doesn't settle our debt by the time  get back, I'm changing my US $ to Ringgit. And that's saying something because the conversion is 1/3 right now. I know this because I recently went to KL, the capitol city and home to as many malls as they can shove down your throat. Everything is really really inexpensive, by the way. I bought jeans, a hat, and some soap :)

The public transportation here is really efficient for the most part. Interestingly enough, they're segregating the sexes on some cars on the train, and the All-Girls car is just as crowded. Seriously, people should really learn some common human decency and stop shoving! Some of this is necessary to fit into the car, but some of it is just rude and potentially dangerous. People don't let people off the car before trying to cram more people in at stops. Which is, plain and simple, stupid. How are you going to fit into that spot unless someone leaves? Psssh, the nerve. Ah, well.

That's all for now, I'll try to get the pictures up soon :)