Friday, March 30, 2007

My Undaunted Mettle

For the last few months, I’ve been teaching piano lessons at the church on Saturday afternoons. I hate, absolutely hate, hate, hate doing it, but am loath to back out for a number of complicated reasons, most of them involving guilt. (I am Mormon, after all. Guilt comes with the baptism.)

It’s easy to see why I hate it. I teach four boys between the ages of 7 and 10, and, when lessons begin, they all climb on the piano seat together and start banging, all at once. When I choose one to start and ask the others to leave, they sit there and stare at me in shock and incomprehension, like I suddenly started speaking Xhosa, not Indonesian. When I finally persuade the others to go away, they go about four feet away and either make ridiculous amounts of noise or stare at me with big, soulful eyes, as if hurt that I would separate them. What’s more, it’s been four months since I started teaching and they still can’t really read music; the most talented can pick his way slowly through a simple song, and the least talented still just randomly guesses, looking at my face for positive or negative reactions. Their parents, though, expect miracles, and constantly ask me when their sons will be able to play the hymns in sacrament meeting. I’ve told them over and over again that it took me years of piano lessons to play the hymns, but nobody listens to me. Maybe they would if I started speaking Xhosa.

Plus, I’m totally unqualified. I admit this freely: just because I can play the piano doesn’t mean I can teach others to play it. So I’ve been set an impossible task, and, moreover, one that I couldn’t accomplish even if it were possible, and I’m responsible to intense parents for its completion. That’s just not a happy situation.

Hanging out with these little boys, though, is a happy situation, the one bright spot in a dark Saturday evening. After the real lessons are over, but before the lesson time is up, meaning whenever they get tired of pretending to try and I get tired of pretending to have control, we play, and I don’t mean the piano. Last week we wandered out of the church building and looked for smashed frogs on the street, poking them with sticks when we found them. The week before we had wheelbarrow races across the chapel. The week before that we ran around trying to stomp on each other’s feet, a game that continued during the weekly Thursday night adult dance activity, and which got me in big trouble with the other adults, since we may have, um, crashed into a few couples trying to dance. These kids now think I’m the coolest thing ever, that rare adult who never tries to make them sit still and be quiet, but who, on the contrary, has fun ideas for new mischief, and I think they’re the coolest things ever, mostly because they give me an excuse to poke smashed frogs with a stick.

I think the moral of the story is clear: I should bring forth men children only--but someone else should teach them piano lessons.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Coming Of Age In Indonesia

I have undergone an Indonesian rite of passage. It’s not circumcision. (I’m not a twelve year old boy.) It’s not leaping over a large rock. (I’m not from Nias.) It’s not sexual promiscuity. (That’s Samoa, not Indonesia.) It’s much simpler than all these: I have travelled.

Remembering how miserable the trip to Bali was, and having heard some good news about my future finances, I opted to splurge, somewhat, and fly home. However, there are no direct flights from Denpasar to Semarang, so I booked a flight to Surabaya and figured I could catch a bus from Surabaya to Semarang.

Mistake! As I sat in the airport for over five hours, waiting for my delayed plane, I rifled through my Lonely Planet again and realized, with a sinking feeling, that Surabaya is not three hours from Semarang, as I thought, but, depending on who you ask and what you ride, either five, seven, or nine agonizing hours.

I ran downstairs to the ticket offices, hoping to find a flight from Surabaya to Semarang. No dice. I called the bus station to ask about approximate distances—yep. Nine hours, putting me into Semarang at, roughly, four in the morning. I called the train station to ask about train times. My plane would be too late to catch the five o’clock, but maybe I would get lucky and on the seven o’clock. The train was clearly the way to go—I could take a taxi from the airport, hop on the train, and sleep until Semarang.

After much questioning in the Surabaya airport, though, I realized I would have to pay more for a taxi to the train station than for the train ticket itself. I changed my plans: ride a public bus from the airport to the bus station and ask about buses. Done.

Once at the bus station, though, I learned that, first, there were no luxury buses to Semarang, meaning I wouldn’t have airconditioning for those nine hours, and second…well, actually, that’s it. I mean, come on. Nine hours. Without AC. I just couldn’t do it.

I changed my plans again, wandering around the bus station until I found a guy with a motorcycle willing, for a price, to give me a ride to the train station. I balanced precariously, for about forty-five minutes, on the back of his motorcycle, clutching my bags tightly less they fall, and me with them, into Saturday night traffic in Indonesia’s second-largest city. At the train station, I paid him the $2.50 the ride cost, ran to the ticket counter, and bought a ticket for the seven o’clock just minutes before it was about to depart. After leaving Ubud around twelve noon, I arrived in Semarang at one in the morning, giving me a solid half-night’s sleep before waking up to teach Sunday School the next morning.

I’ve simplified the story somewhat, but in any case, this was a trial by fire: an epic journey, the kind that could only work because I can speak (some of) the language, and, therefore, successfully ask people for directions/rides/to stop staring and get the hell away from me, and I feel inordinate amounts of pride in having accomplished it. What’s more, I survived the whole trip without breaking down in the airport and paying $7 for People Magazine, without losing the Zen calm I’ve been practicing, and, what’s even more impressive, without breaking Lent and eating any of the chocolate I so desperately wanted. Now that’s real maturity. Give me the tattoos, driver’s license, alcohol, or whatever this culture uses to mark entry into society: I have passed the test. I have fought the good fight. I have come of age.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spring Break, Part 1

As if compensating for the four years I spent at BYU, that most vernal fun-hating of tertiary institutions, the universe has decided to grant me copious holiday time this spring, enough that I essentially have three separate opportunities to travel within Indonesia, mostly to Bali, and call it “spring break.” (Either it’s the eternal unchanging justice of the universe, or the fact that I have a fake job. You decide.) Whatever the reason, my spring break, like Gaul, has three parts.



As I hoped, Bali was worth every second of those agonizing 26 hours en route. I did everything my heart desired: I relaxed on Kuta Beach, embarrassed first at being the whitest person on the beach, and then, a few hours later, at being the reddest person on the beach. After sunset, I indulged in veritable orgy of Western delights in the heavily touristed neighborhoods of Kuta: I ate Mexican food! And pizza! And gazpacho soup! I went shopping, acquiring lots of crap for very cheap, due to the fact that I, unlike all the other sunburned Westerners, can speak Indonesian—a sundress, a sarong, a pair of shorts, a book, a pair of sandals, three CDs, and 13 DVDs, all for a grand total of $25. I got my hair cut very short, to the dismay of the hairdresser. I talked to other Americans, Australians, and, especially, Europeans. I went to Ubud, a center of Balinese culture, and watched a traditional kecak dance. I visited ancient temples in the middle of a forest filled with monkeys. I learned to take “homestay” signs seriously: that was their home, and I stayed in it. I read Clifford Geertz articles about Balinese Hinduism while watching Balinese Hindus delicately place small offerings and incense on the doorsteps of their homes. I accepted a ride on the back of a motorcycle and made a new friend, who then toured Ubud with me, took me to dinner, and brought me home to meet the family and, strangely, spend the morning working in her shop.

In other words, I did Bali. It was paradise, and I miss it already, but no matter: I’ll be back come spring break part two or three. Sometimes having a fake job can really pay off.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Long Day's Journey

There were, as far as I could tell, two good ways to get from Yogyakarta to Bali on Tuesday. One could suffer the inflated holiday prices and pay $65 for a plane ticket and arrive in Bali on Tuesday night, or one could pay $18 and take a bus, supposedly arriving in Bali on Tuesday morning. Since first, I am a cheapskate, if not miser, and second, I wanted to get to Bali as soon as possible, I opted for the bus.

That was the wrong choice. I did not get the smooth 2 PM departure from Yogyakarta and 9 AM arrival in Denpasar I was promised. I got, instead, Indonesia:

1.50 PM:
Arrive at travel office.
2.00 PM: Car departs to take waiting passengers to the bus station. Nearly die of shock because something happened on time in Indonesia. Think hopeful thoughts about this trip.
3.00 PM: Scheduled departure of the bus. Still no sign of it.
3.30 PM: All the other buses except mine have left. Lose solitaire nine times in a row. Worry that might be a sign.
3.45 PM: Check with the front desk employees that the bus has not left without me. Play another six hands of solitaire. Lose.
4.15 PM: Bus finally departs. Settle into reclining seat, adjust AC, sigh happily.
4.30 PM: Pick up passengers, including a 20-something hipster who sits next to me and stares.
4.45 PM: More passengers.
5.00 PM: More passengers.
5.15 PM: On the road! Finally!
5.15 PM-6.15 PM: Stare out the window at Mount Merapi. It's definitely a volcano. It's definitely belching smoke. Worry, momentarily, about the impending doom of Yogyakarta.
6.15 PM-8.15 PM: Read Clifford Geertz. Listen to Okkervil River. Wish seatmate would stop staring.
8.15 PM: Stop for dinner. Get a wolf whistle from the restaurant employees.
9.15 PM-10.15 PM: Watch, out the window, an amazing lightning storm. Beautiful!
10.15 PM-11.00 PM: Try to sleep. Avoid tossing and turning because Mr. Hipster is still staring.
11.00 PM: Remember the Valium my mother gave me over Christmas. Desparately rifle through purse. Success!
7.00 AM: Wake up. Understand why people develop Valium addictions. Realize the bus has stopped to wait in line for the ferry. Bali, here I come!
9.00 AM: Still in line for the ferry. Get off the bus to jalan-jalan, or wander around.
9.15 AM: Hear from the other passengers that our bus's turn will come about three o'clock. Decide to abandon the bus.
9.30 AM: Use my fascinating womanhood to sweet-talk the ferry official into letting me board by myself, for free.
9.45 AM-10.45 AM: Sit on the ferry listening to a salesman trying to sell small flotation devices by claiming they can double as a raft if the ferry sinks. Hear the sweet strains of Amr Diab from the back of the ferry. Dance to the beat, to the rhythm of the Nile.
10.45 AM: Bali, here I am!
11.00 AM-3.00 PM: Sit on un-airconditioned public bus. Rest my chin on the pile of bags balanaced precariously on my lap. Try not to wake up the Indonesian woman sleeping on my right shoulder. Try to nod along with the Indonesian woman on my left as she happily chats at me. Wish she would take her hand off my knee.
3.00 PM-3.30 PM: Arrive at one of Denpasar's bus terminals. Climb on a public minibus to be taken to the other bus station, to catch a bus to Kuta. Sweat profusely.
3.30 PM: Still sitting on the minibus, waiting for more passengers before departing. Think, what the hell am I doing here? A taxi costs $6!
3.30-4.15 PM: Enjoy an air-conditioned $6 taxi.
4.15 PM-4.30 PM: Arrive in Kuta. Search for a cheap hotel. Put my bags down. Walk to the beach.
4.30 PM-?: Enjoy paradise.

At least I'm here now. And, let me tell you, forget aviation disasters and inflated prices: I'm flying home.

Yogya On My Mind

When I went to church in Yogyakarta this past Sunday, I ran into Elder N., my former missionary buddy. In Semarang, he had spent much of his time grumpy and tressed, but he looked much happier this Sunday. When I asked him how he was liking Yogya, he grinned wider than I had ever seen him. "Great!" he said. "I love it! Yogya's like a party, every day!"

This quickly became the theme for my weekend visit to Yogya. I had been feeling vaguely dissatisfied over the past few weeks in Semarang, and when I, as is my habit, sat down and made a list of things possibly causing my malaise, two easily-resolved reasons appeared: I was bored with my routine and lonely for American conversation. So, with a week and a half of vacation coming up, I packed a bag, climbed on a bus, and went to Yogya.

Some of the other Americans from my program were in town for the weekend, and as we restaurant-hopped in search of Western food, market-hopped in search of fine silver and batik, and travel agent-hopped in search of cheap plane tickets, I felt, for the first time in weeks, happy. Yogya is like a party, I kept repeating to my friend, at least ten times a day, and like the best kind of party, too: something for everyone! The city itself is almost schizophrenic in personality: it is both one of, along with Solo, the deeply traditional centers of Javanese culture, complete with gamelan orchestras, wayang performances, batik production, and the 'purest' dialect of Javanese, all of which I experienced during my last visit, and one of, along with Jakarta, the deeply hip modern centers of Indonesian youth culture, complete with a university campus, live music at open-air cafes, art galleries, and totally rad Indonesian slang, all of which I experienced during this visit.

In other words, I like it. So thank you, Yogya, and thank you Nono, Steve, Hillary, Elena, Amelia, Amanda, and Tamara, for breaking me out of my funk. And party on, Yogya. May your days and nights always be excellent.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Week I Had Rued

I didn't have the greatest week. There's no need to worry about me--nothing went spectacularly wrong, it's just that nothing went spectacularly right, either. My life has been, well, meh.

But then yesterday a group of my tenth-grade students told me, while trying to translate nasi kucing, or, literally, "cat rice," that "We love to eat pussy rice, Miss," and I laughed so hard I cried. That pretty much made this whole week, if not this whole year, worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rainy Season

When my great-grandpa was in his eighties, his second wife died. My grandma, finally free of this wicked stepmother who kept her and her children away from her father—it’s a long story—swooped in and stole him away, bringing him to the Philippines, where my mom’s family lived at the time. A former park ranger in the deserts of southern Utah, he was understandably confused by the rainy season. He panicked every time it rained, rushed around the house, shouting at his grandchildren to get to work! Put buckets on the roof! We've gotta save this water! Don't just let all this water go to waste!

I feel like him sometimes. The rain here is different, so sudden and heavy that it stuns me into silence: standing in front of a class of eleventh graders, writing on the whiteboard, uncapped marker in hand, I stare out the window at the downpour, half unbelieving it’s real. How could the sky hold that much water?

In America, I told the other teachers, when it rains, it drizzles. At most, it’s just a steady pitter-pat, or drip-drip-drop. The skies are cloudy and grey all day long. We sing to the rain, I added, telling it to go away, and we invent special activities for “rainy days,” knowing we’ll be housebound for a while.

In Indonesia, when it rains, it pours: buckets, bathtubs, lakes of water tumble from the sky, in rushes and volumes without a steady rhythm, pounding so heavily I cannot hear the voice of the person standing two feet away from me. This happens several times a day this time of year, and the Indonesians know what to do: far from getting the buckets out, everyone flees the rain, ducking into the nearest store, or hiding under an awning somewhere to wait it out.

And then, just as quickly as the rain came, it goes again. Just when I start cursing myself for not bringing an umbrella, wondering how best to keep my shoes dry while walking through ankle-deep puddles, I glance outside again and bam! the rain stops! It’s like God turns on a faucet and then, finished brushing his teeth, responsibly switches it off, sure to check for any stray drips. God, like my great-grandfather, doesn’t want to waste water.

Even stranger still, the sun comes out again, almost immediately. The streets flood, but that’s no matter: everyone rolls their pants up to their ankles and ventures out from under store awnings, ready to resume normal life. The air smells fresh, heavy, and alive, the smell of moist dirt and growing plants; it’s one of my favorite scents in the world. I cap my marker and turn back the class. “All right,” I say, smiling. “Who knows what monsoon means?”

Monday, March 12, 2007

Who Shall Stand It?

When I was a kid and sometimes hated church because it was boring and I had to wear a skirt, I focused on wresting the scriptures to my own satisfaction: "Sister, if men are that they might have joy, and cookies bring us joy, shouldn't you help us fulfill the measure of our creation by distributing those treats now?"

When I was a teenager and sometimes hated church because it was boring and I had no friends, I took deep breaths and recited the mantra, "It's my church too. It's my church too." Or, when that failed, I comforted myself with faith, hope, and charity: faith that church will, someday, be spiritually uplifting, hope that it will be this week, and charity when it's not.

When I was a college student and sometimes hated church because it was boring and mindless, I brought books and read my way through the Qur'an, the Baghavad Gita, the Apocrypha, and the collected works of St. Augustine, Boethius, and Kierkegaard. Oh, and I started fights about stockpiling nuclear weapons and quoted "This Be the Verse" in Relief Society.

Recently, on the days I hate church because it is boring and everyone asks me to be in charge--of playing the piano in sacrament meeting, of teaching Sunday School, of teaching English class, of teaching free piano lessons to anyone who asks, of conducting the church choir, of translating Relief Society for the mission couple--and then criticizes the way I do these things, I haven't had time to read, meditate, or even persuade others to feed me. I come home exhausted, and, frequently, irritated, mostly from having to bite my tongue as well-meaning members point out to me how fat I've gotten. ("I mean, when you got here you were thin. But now you're looking plump!" "Mmm-hmmm." "Indonesian food must really agree with you!" "Mmm-hmmm." "Yep, you sure are nice and fat now." "Mmm-hmmm.")

But then I had this thought: forget the Second Coming, this is how I'm going to read Malachi now: church is the real refiner's fire. If I can just abide each Sunday as graciously as possible, fulfilling, if not magnifying, my callings, one day I really may become a pure metal, kind and helpful on the inside as well as the out. One day, with enough practice at church, I really may do my duty with a heart full of song, instead of a heart full of grumbling at everyone for disagreeing with my decision to change the words of a hymn from "thee" to "you" when I used it during English class. I hope. That's what all this suffering is for, right?

If not, at least there's this: now, instead of biting my tongue, I hum Handel. A head full of song is almost as good as a heart full of song, and far, far better than a tongue full of teeth marks.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Everybody Poops

My friend arrived thirty minutes late to our appointment. "I'm sorry," he said, hopping off his motorcycle. "I had an accident on the way."

"What?" I started freaking out. This is what comes of riding motorcycles, after all. "What happened? Are you okay? Was anyone seriously hurt?"

"Oh, no, no," he said. "Not that kind of accident."

"What do you mean?" Now I was confused.

"Well," he said, "I was riding along, and then I felt like I had to pass gas. So I did. But then it turned out it wasn't gas!" He started laughing his head off at this point. "It was a total mess! I mean, all over the seat, and even some on the road. I had to go home and clean it off and change my clothes and everything. That's why I'm late."

What was I supposed to say here? I just kind of stared at him, wondered if I had misunderstood the story, muttered something about "how embarrassing that must have been for you," and climbed on the back of his motorcycle like I was supposed to. I just hope thirty minutes was enough time to clean it off well.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Stranger In a Strange Land

One of the many problems with teaching in a foreign culture is that it’s so, well, foreign. It hardly increases my credibility in the classroom, or my control, that half the time I don’t have any clue what’s going on—“Where are you going? What did that announcement on the PA system just say? Why are you sitting on each other’s laps?” Moreover, most of my students lack either the English skills of the confidence—I’m not sure which—to explain to me precisely why they’ve pushed all their desks into a big group in the corner when they’ve got a whole giant empty classroom around them; the best they could give me was to nod vigorously when I asked, I thought sarcastically, if they just really liked each other. (Though, come to think of it, that may be the real answer.) Thus, I am mostly reduced, in these situations, to nodding, still confused, and saying, by way of changing the subject, “you kids are weird, you know that?”

It’s not very culturally sensitive of me, I know. But they are weird, though I can never figure out what is Indonesian culture and what is just 15-year-old culture; at this point, they are equally foreign to me. In one of my tenth grade classes, for example, the students have all ganged up to mock one of their peers: every sample sentence, every dialogue, and every writing assignment they produce is focused on the unfortunate Jono; when, for example, they were asked to write newspaper articles for the headline “Disaster Strikes Semarang,” a good half of the articles, I swear, were about Jono escaping from prison and kidnapping babies; Jono, through his family’s restaurant, poisoning everyone; and, perhaps most creatively of all, Jono growing to giant size and stomping on the city, Godzilla-style. Trying to be a good teacher, sensitive to the feelings of my students, and trying to combat what I thought was simply 15-year-old culture, I heavily censored the articles I chose to be read out loud for the class, and, as the kids wrote sample sentences on the board, I assiduously followed them, erasing “Jono” and substituting the ever-classic “Bob.”

But I constantly second-guess myself: is this because they are fifteen and cruel, or is this because they are Indonesian? My American sensibilities tell me to encourage everyone to “play nice” and not get their feelings hurt, but Indonesia has, I’ve noticed, a much stronger culture of teasing, and I, clueless as I am, never know when comments have crossed the line. When I came to class last week, there was a new decoration in the classroom: a collage of pictures of Jono, along with a song someone had written about him and his family’s restaurant, and then a list of comments solicited from each member of the class. I didn’t understand all the lyrics—something about how spicy his meatballs are—but I definitely understood the comments below: “Jono is so hot!” and “This makes me love him more!” and “His meatballs are delicious!” I spent a good ten minutes of the class period reading though this, thinking, basically, “Huh?” It all seemed to be highly sarcastic, but it’s hard to tell in a foreign language--I mean, maybe his meatballs are the best in town.

So I sidled over to my partner teacher, hoping she could shed some light on this. “Look,” I asked, “in America this would probably be considered over the line and hurtful to Jono. I mean, do they like him or not? Does Jono mind? Are teachers here expected to stop this behavior? Is this okay????

“Oh,” she said, “Yeah, they don’t really like him. They say he smells bad. But he’s kind of a class mascot now! It’s funny, right?”

I wasn’t so sure. “How does Jono feel about it?”

“I asked him last week,” she said, which reassured me that an adult figure has tried to take responsibility. “He said he doesn’t mind. He just imagines that it’s all happening to someone else. So, see? It’s okay!”

Ouch. I find that more heartbreaking than “okay,” but the other teacher just smiled cheerfully and went back to grading. For me, though, reluctant to just ignore things like this but equally reluctant to interfere, what with my surface-only understanding of this culture, I have a hard time figuring out my responsibility, both as a teacher and as a person. This goes for everything, not just this class—every time a student misbehaves, every time they say something strange, every time I walk into class to find them choreographing disco dances, I face the questions again: stop it? Ignore it? Join in? For now, I just shake my head and sigh. These kids are weird, you know.

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

American Foods I Only Like While Living Abroad

macaroni and cheese
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

What is the world coming to? Next thing you know I'm going be craving hamburgers, corn on the cob, and apple pie. Blech.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Waiting For the Other Heel to Drop

As part of my Lenten vow, I’ve been satisfying my fiction cravings by reading in Indonesian. I’ve read some decent books so far—a few English novels in translation, one Egyptian novel in translation, and then, in an even bolder move, a few contemporary Indonesian works. One of them, They Say I’m a Monkey, a collection of short stories, was great, which is saying a lot because I usually don’t like short stories. Quality aside, though, the book was hard to read, at times, because the stories had a strong element of fantasy—pet leeches that turn into snakes when attached to the top of a character’s head are strange enough in your own language, but downright confusing in a foreign one. I had to look up the word “lintah” in about three different dictionaries before I finally had to accept that yes, the main character’s mother really is cuddling with a leech.

Even more confusing, though, at least in a literary context, is the fact that Indonesian doesn’t distinguish gender in pronouns, even the third person, which means that “he” and “she” are the same word. I started one of the stories, in which the main character was only referred to with the third-person pronoun, assuming that said character was a man; after all, he smoked cigarettes, wore sneakers, and rode in taxis by himself. So when a man across the hotel bar buys a drink for the main character, I thought, “oh, interesting, a glimpse into Jakarta’s underground gay scene.” When the main character reminisces about a former lover, Glen, missing his sweet words and the heat of his body, I thought, “well, I knew this book was progressive in its attitudes to sex, but wow! A homosexual hero! That is daring!” When the main character pulls out a long black gown, open in the back, that was a gift from Glen, I thought, “Amazing! A cross-dressing homosexual main character! Who would have thought?”

Then, finally, the main character, wearing the gown, with a pair of high heels replacing the sneakers, returns to the hotel bar to take the stage as the bar singer. I was floored, my thoughts racing: “I mean, I know Indonesia is relatively liberal about homosexuality, especially for a Muslim country, but still! What a daring move on the part of this writer, to center a story around a gay, cross-dressing, bar-singing hero…or, wait. Wait a second. Heroine. This character’s a woman. Duh.”

So, apparently, I am sexist: women can smoke cigarettes and wear sneakers too. They can even ride taxis by themselves! And they certainly look a lot better in high heels and slinky black gowns. Who knew?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Drawing a Blank

Last week, while discussing the history of segregation and the civil rights movement, I drew a map of America on the whiteboard, partially so the students had a sense of where these events took place, and partially to emphasize that “my place,” whatever that means, was never segregated. I don't pretend to be any great hand at drawing, but the map was, I thought, recognizable--the big pointy thing in the north is Maine, the big pointy thing in the south is Florida and the rest is all one big rectangular(ish) blob.

The students all stared at my map for a minute, squinting and turning their heads to the sides, trying to make sense of it. Noticing their confusion, I tried to explain: "Okay, guys, this is the U.S. Sort of. But look, here's Maine! And Florida! And see that bit pointing out at the bottom? That's Texas. And Washington is in this corner. And this thing that looks like a foot is Louisiana. And oh! wait! Let me add Massachusetts. That's my place. Sort of. No segregation there. And...oops, I forgot Michigan. That's okay, everyone does. See? See? Do you see it now? It's America!"

One of my students, in the back row, raised his hand, his face very serious. "Miss, what was your grade in your high school drawing class?"

"Well," I replied, "high school is different in America. We're not all required to take a drawing class. I, for one, took Latin instead of art."

"Oooooh," the class said, in chorus, all nodding their heads. "That explains a lot."

Thanks, kids.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Just One of Those Days

I woke up this morning at five, my regular time, and then promptly fell back asleep for another twenty minutes. After rushing through my morning shower and dress routine, I realized that since today was Thursday, I could catch a ride with my host mother and therefore didn't have to leave for another hour. Drat.

After grabbing my toast and defending my decision to use jam instead of chocolate to the maid, I was waylaid by a houseguest who wanted to grill me, for a full ten minutes, about my family and why they live in India. My toast got cold while we talked. Shoot.

I got to school and it turns out there was still testing, which meant that, instead of teaching four classes, I only had to teach one, which, in turn, meant that I didn't have to be at school until noon and therefore had woken up early for five hours of nothing. Crap.

I went to the library to use the new wi-fi internet connection there and it wasn't working. Darn.

I walked to the internet cafe near the school to use the internet there and it wasn't working either. Blast.

I walked back to school, and, instead of walking all the way around to the front entrance, took a shortcut by scrambling up a shaky wooden latter and climbing over a wall, only to find a group of my tenth grade students watching me from a window. They applauded, amused by the sight of this new "Action Adventure Miss Hannah." I was embarrassed. Sheesh.

When I got back to school, the electricity, which includes the air-conditioning, wasn't working. I spent the next two hours mopping sweat from my forehead with a Kleenex. Good grief.

During the one lesson I actually taught, the sound on the DVD player died, so my lesson plan, which involved a short clip from "Crash" as its nucleus, utterly failed. Too fried from the heat to think of a better plan B, I turned the subtitles on and read them to the students, imitating Ludacris's speech habits to the best of my white-girl ability, and replacing the profanity with tamer alternatives: "What the fetch is you laughing at, man?" My students were more confused than amused. Dang.

Suffering succotash, jeepers creepers, jumping Jehosaphat, oh my heck, and for crying out loud: today was not my day.