When a Brain Child Grows Up: The Bahasa Project

Throughout my first grant as an ETA, the best teachers I had as I tried to learn Bahasa Indonesia were my students.  I had bought and borrowed textbooks, I searched online for resources, but nothing was as effective as the enthusiasm and humor my students brought to my bumbling attempts to master their language.  I wished on more than one occasion that I could somehow bring my students to every Bahasa Indonesia learner.

This was the spark that brought me to head a project that stretched across the great archipelago of Indonesia, The Bahasa Project.  The aim of the project is to create a series of videos, and sometimes supporting materials, to help folks who may want to learn Bahasa Indonesia or one of the hundreds of local languages spoken throughout the country.  To do this, ETAs enlist the help of their students and other members of their school communities, the true experts in the field, as they talk, tease, and tell their stories in these languages each and every day.

Screenshot (3)

Almost a third of the 2015-15 ETA cohort created such videos with their students.  This is not the sort of project you can tackle on their own, and I was awed and thankful for the amount of support my crazy idea received after I pitched it to the cohort.  This project would not be what it is without them.

Facilitating the making the videos with my own students was an absolute joy.  I placed control of the project firmly in their hands, from selecting the topic and subsequent vocabulary, to writing and developing the script (I helped with editing a bit), to the directing and acting while the video was being filmed.  I supported them, but refused to tell them what to do with the project: it was they who were the teachers now.

My English Club girls rose to the task at hand, and created not one but two videos for the Bahasa Indonesia section of the project, both about describing people’s personalities.  The thoughtfully crafted skits for each vocabulary word, checking with me to make sure certain examples would make sense to someone outside of Indonesian culture, and adding cultural explanations where needed.  Their skits were effective, creative, and almost always hilarious.  While the filming was taking place, my job was generally limited to pressing the record button on my camera and making sure that everyone was in frame, while my girls tweaked parts of the script, determined whether or not they needed to retake a scene, and teased one another good-naturedly for forgotten lines or for laughing before the scene was over.

Plenty of fun was had by all, and more than once we all ended up on the floor in stitches.  At the same time, my girls treated the project with a seriousness that made me feel like I was on the set of a real movie on occasion.

Many of the students in my English Club were too shy to so much as say hello to me in English when I first started holding English Club meetings, but they stuck to it and kept trying, and their hard work really showed as they tacked this project.  Working with students in this way is one of the most wonderfully humbling experiences I think anyone can have, and I feel blessed to have been a part of this.

In the end, it was time that got in our way, as it always does.  While we had planned out the video for Bahasa Gorontalo, because school was repeatedly canceled we did not have enough English Club days to film it together.  I ended up filming it during my last week at site, and did far more directing than originally planned.  Even so, it was great fun to do, as it involved more students and even some of the teachers.

Due to time and the fact that my old laptop was on its last legs, editing the videos—something my students and I had planned to do together—had to wait until I returned to the states.  While I have at this point shared the completed videos in the English Club Facebook Group, but a large part of me still wishes we had been able to watch them for the first time together.  I comfort myself by knowing that waiting allowed me to create a much higher-quality video, to truly showcase the talent of my students.

Technology and time meant I was not the only ETA whose videos were not finished at the end of the grant, and a few tweaks needed to be made to several of the videos handed to me at our end-of-year conference.  I didn’t really mind one bit, as this meant I had the privilege of seeing the brilliant work made by other students and ETAs from across Indonesia before they were even posted to YouTube.  Though enough videos have been uploaded for the project to go live, there are more videos on the way, and I cannot wait to see what other schools have produced.

Screenshot (4)

The young people I get to meet and work with as an ETA impress me in a million ways each and every day, and this was just one more chance for them to blow me away.  I am incredibly proud of the work all of the students and ETAs have accomplished in The Bahasa Project, and humbled and blessed to have been a part of it.

 

Links:

Website: thebahasaproject.wordpress.com

YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UC6MFZUgG58VZRkqyuFIJ4vA

 

Advertisements

Last Lines: The End of My Gorontalo Chapter

There are entire blogs, Tumblr accounts, etc. dedicated to the last lines of novels.  I myself wonder at the lack of attention given to the last lines of chapters: those few words that transition the reader out of one adventure and into the next.  These are often my favorite lines of a novel, some for their subtlety, others for their pomp and circumstance, and still others that somehow manage to be both at once.

If my time in Gorontalo was a chapter in a book, it’s last line would have been of that last sort, a perfect blend of quiet moments and full-scale productions.

IMG_3653

It may have taken me until my last day at site to see the marching band perform, but that didn’t make it any less amazing.

I left site in the week after finals, which meant I had no more real responsibilities with my school: no classes to teach, no clubs to run, no meeting to attend.  I was thankful for this time and space to really say goodbye to the place I had come to call home; to finally learn how to make tinituan from my closest friend and her mother, after months of planning to do so; to ride my motorbike along my favorite roads one last time; to stop by my favorite martabak sellers and ask them to make me one last of my usual orders; to tell the folks at the internet café, who have become almost like family because I have spent so much time there, that they wouldn’t be seeing me around anymore… my job was done.

IMG_3637

Coordinated costumes, giggles, and balloons…

But it was not all quiet goodbyes.  My final full day at site was an adventuresome one: it began with a jalan sehat (literally, “healthy walk”) in honor of my school’s birthday, which coincided with my leaving; I was finally able to see the school’s marching band perform, after passing by their practice for nine months; and as a themed costume contest was part of the parade, my last day was spent surrounded by the enthusiasm and creativity that I so love to celebrate in my brilliant students.  In the afternoon, my school held a perpisahan, or going-away party, for me, complete with speeches and singing: even I wrote a speech, and sang in front of a crowd for the first time since becoming an ETA in Indonesia (how I managed to escape this for so long is a mystery).  There was a stage, there was a banner, and there was more love than I could ever deserve.

IMG_3669

One last sweaty, happy group photo with some of my students.

My final morning in Gorontalo was spent with some of my favorite teachers, packing up the last of my things and stopping to eat delicious ikan bakar, one last time.  We piled into cars, and headed off to the airport.  We laughed, we cried, we hugged, and said goodbye.

And then it was over.  I boarded the plane with my sitemates, every bit as important to my time here than anyone from my school or community, and headed to Jakarta for the End-of-Year Conference, to say goodbye to the cohort that was my extended family this grant period.

IMG_3678

One of my Indonesian Moms.

Again and again throughout my last week at site, I told people: “It’s not just goodbye, it’s see you later.”  And as I am returning to Indonesia again, I know that I will see many of the wonderful people from that side of the globe again, and I do hope that I will cross paths in the future with the ETAs I have come to love.

But I will never again live in Gorontalo as the ETA at MAN Model.  That chapter of my life is over, and a new chapter is beginning.  The people and places will carry over—if not in my actual everyday existence, then in the cornerstones of my heart—because though this may be a new chapter, but it is still the same story.  But they will take on a new role, as the plot twists into a new shape.

I am sad and excited to turn the page.  I will miss the tale this chapter told.  I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.

Hoping All Their Wishes Come True: National WORDS Competition 2016

April 10th-14th was the National WORDS Competition, an annual English Speech and Talent Competition held by the Indonesia ETA Program.  WORDS was one of the highlights of my experience last year, and it was again this year.

RWP_9017

Noni performing her speech.

All of the performances were fantastic.  The topic was “Three Wishes,” and the range of speeches that came out of that idea were inspiring.  Students spoke about personal wishes, and global wishes, and everything in between.  Their talents were just as incredible as their speeches.  Students sang, danced, performed screen printing on stage… I don’t think I ever smile so broadly as I do when I am at WORDS.  Part of me hopes that if I am ever in Indonesia outside of the Fulbright Program that I will be asked to be a judge, so that I can have the privilege of witnessing such talent, and hope that I never end up being assigned to that task, because I have no idea how the judges are able to select on winner from so many fabulous students.

DS1_8762

New friends.

In the evenings, there were planned activities for the students and the ETAs.  The first night was Laser Tag and Glow-in-the-Dark Mini Golf.  It was even my first time playing laser tag, and I’m fairly certain everyone involved had a blast.  The second night’s activity was ice skating, but due to traffic only about half of the students were able to get to the rink before it closed for hockey practice.  Sadly, the girls from Gorontalo were among those who weren’t able to make it in time, but they headed off to supper with their new friends, and seemed to have a grand time nonetheless. To me, the time the students spend with one another reflects what is really so magical about WORDS: that it is an opportunity for students from all across this diverse archipelago to meet and exchange their own unique cultures, and develop friendships with people they might never have had the chance to meet otherwise.

IMG_3058

The MAN Model girls.

My student from MAN Model, Noni, was extremely nervous about speaking in front of such a large crowd, and meeting so many new people, but she performed her speech bravely and beautifully, and warmed up to students who would become new friends rather quickly.  I was very proud of her, and I’m so glad she got to have this experience.

I may have mixed feelings about coming back to live in Jakarta next year, but there is one part of returning with this program that I know will be 100% amazing, and that is WORDS. No words can adequately express the privilege it has been to attend not one, but two WORDS competitions, and I look forward to the undeserved honor of being present for a third.

RWP_9403

The whole crew of ETAs and Students.  So much talent.  So much love.

(Note: The only photo that is mine is that of myself and Noni together.  Thank you to AMINEF for the rest of them!)

 

When Educational Worlds Collide: An American Classroom and Teacher in an Indonesian School

There are many things that I absolutely adore about teaching in Indonesia.

I love the energy of my students, which sometimes does need some reigning in, but honestly is the reason I show up to work every day.  In the States, one of the biggest challenges of teaching high school, in my experience, was creating excitement and enthusiasm.  That is already there every time I walk into any classroom here.

Jpeg

Taking class outside, because, well, why not?

I love the way the outside world begins where the classroom ends, and we just have to walk out the door if we want to take class outside.  There is no trekking down the hallway, there is no making sure alarms won’t go off if we go into the courtyard, as there is in so many northern U.S. schools.  We just step out of the classroom, and… there we are.

I love how quickly my students help one another, how they support students who struggle with English to keep up, as best they can, with the rest of the class[1].  I love how easy this makes incorporating group work into the classroom.

I love how the relationship between students and teachers is much more informal than it is in the States: teachers seem more like parents than the distant professionals various regulations have forced U.S. teachers to be[2].  I love the way all of my students take pride in the class they come from, the way their class becomes a sort of family.  I love the way the whole school feels like a family, like a home.

But there is no denying that teaching in Indonesia is also a considerable challenge.

Jpeg

One of my classes didn’t have a white board for a while, so we used the floor instead.

I laugh now at how much of my own training to become a teacher focused on the use of technology in the classroom, as I now work in classrooms with one whiteboard, no markers unless I bring them myself, and a few shared projectors that can’t be used half the time because of mati lampu.

The classrooms are hot, and often packed with far more students than I would ever recommend in one class[3].  Sometimes, there are not enough chairs for all of the students.

The students take too many classes.  My students take anywhere from fourteen to seventeen classes during their six day school week, and this leaves a mere hour and a half each week for English.  I remember being in college and taking seven or eight classes in a semester, rather than the recommended six, and finding that I was never able to find as much time as I wanted to dedicate to each subject; I can’t imagine how my students survive.

Teachers show up late to class, or not at all, and there doesn’t seem to be any real accountability for them.  And there is no system of substitute teachers in Indonesia, which means the students are left alone for that period.  Students come late to class and skip class too, generally coming to school but hanging out in the canteen when they don’t feel like going to class.  The teachers reprimand them, but in some ways I can’t blame them, what with the examples they see every day.

Every day, I navigate the ups and downs of these joys and frustrations.  Perhaps the most difficult part of this is differentiating when something is particular wonderful or vexing because it simply is, or because it is so different from the American context in which I am accustomed to learning and working.  I do my best to consider everything as objectively as possible—which makes me pretty confident in my critiques of classroom size, but less so in regards to just how advantageous collectivism in the classroom is—but the truth is I will never really be sure.

One of hardest things about teaching in Indonesia, for me, is not having a consistent space in which to teach.  In Indonesia, the students do not come to the teacher; the teacher goes to the students.  This means that I need to be able to carry all of my supplies for a lesson with me, and they need to work in ten different classrooms with ten different set-ups[4].  This means my students sit in the same classroom all day.  This means I cannot leave permanent learning spaces in the classroom.  It is maddening.

At the beginning of the second semester, my school moved the entire tenth grade to a new building, leaving the old tenth grade classrooms empty.  We had just used the required content of diary entries to compare and contrast American and Indonesian schools.  I saw an opportunity.  I took it.

In one of the classrooms left empty by the tenth grade move, my teachers and I have created an American Classroom.  It started as an experiment, as a one-week trip to give them a taste of what they had read about and we had discussed.  But the students and my co-teachers loved it so much that English Class is now held in the American Classroom every week, and I use the space for all of the after-school English activities I run as well.

Students flock to the world map in the back of the room when they arrive, pestering me with questions about different countries on the map (ever so thankful for my high school geography class now).  On the way out they take selfies with the American Flag while making jokes about how they are in the U.S.A.  And they tease me for refusing to take down the Indonesian Flags on the ceiling: “This is the American Class, Miss!,” while I insist on the beauty of campur (mix).  When they are assigned to present on a hero of their choice, a handful of students in each class pick the American social justice leaders whose inspirational quotes are displayed by the door.

Jpeg

Students using the Irregular Verb Word Wall for a poetry exercise.

But it’s not just about the decorations.  It’s about creating a permanent space to learn in.  When it was time to incorporate biographies into the tenth grade curriculum, I was able to create an interactive gallery walk about famous Black American heroes, something that, had I needed to move it to each of my ten classes, would have taken too much class time to set up to really be feasible; those same biographies now line one of the classroom walls, and some of the eleventh graders, visiting the American Classroom after school, recently read through and asked me questions, thereby extending the Black History Month lesson well beyond only the classes I teach.  I have created Word Walls of all the new vocabulary they were exposed to last semester, and of the irregular verbs they have been working with so intensively this semester; not only does this act as a great resource for students while they are doing their work (no more leafing through the notebook for those words they cannot remember), those students who tend to finish work a bit more quickly go to these Word Walls when their assignment is finished, extending their vocabulary.  Upon the request of my co-teachers, I will be adding more quotes and reading materials for some of the other walls, to provide more extended practice for high-achieving students.  Students are currently working on their own poems, and I plan to display that poetry on one of the walls which, for now, is intentionally blank.  There may only be three months left in or grant, but I already have so many ideas as to how to use this new space for future lessons.

Jpeg

The kind of lesson that just wouldn’t really be feasible without the American Classroom.

I don’t think I’d be exaggerating when I say that every aspiring teacher dreams for the day when they have a classroom of their own.  I ended up with my first classroom in a fairly untraditional fashion, in a borrowed, faded, unused classroom, devoid of desks and chairs and with broken windows and a whiteboard that had to be re-nailed to the wall.  But as I sweep the classroom floor before school, and students start to file in early (usually stealing the broom from me in the process—it is considered disrespectful if they let their teacher do the classroom cleaning), firing questions off right from the beginning about whatever it is I have added to the wall or written on the board that week, satisfaction settles in around my smile.  What I have is a classroom that is a blend of American and Indonesian traditions, with both an American and an Indonesian teacher, with some of the loveliest students any teacher in the world could ask for.  Who needs desks?

Jpeg

Waiting for students to arrive.

[1] This probably comes from the culture of collectivism that prevails in Indonesia.  Collectivism is complicated, with plenty of positives and negatives alike, and I don’t fully understand it yet, but I do so love this one element.

[2] Most of the teachers I have worked with are not actually all that distant.  But there is no denying that any time a student would give me a hug there was bound to be someone telling me to be careful about physical contact with students, and I could really only get away with it at all because I am a woman.  This is not the case in Indonesia.  Students and teachers touch all the time (though gender does play a role, still).

[3] This year, my largest class has thirty-six students, which is pretty close to the average class size in Indonesia.  Last year, I had more than one class with forty students in it, and fellow ETAs have taught in classes pushing fifty students.  In comparison, the average U.S. High School Classroom, according to data from 2012, is 26.8.

[4] Objectively, I know this experience will make me a much stronger teacher in the future, especially if, instead of becoming a more traditional classroom English teacher, I go into ESL education and work in a variety of classroom alongside other subject teachers.  Nonetheless, I am an American teacher trained with the expectation of someday having a classroom space of my own, and the lack thereof wears on me.

Halloween at SMAN 10 Malang

As an ETA, I spend a lot of my time in classrooms fulfilling my role as a Teaching Assistant: planning activities to help students actually use English in realistic ways, working one-on-one with students to help them improve their English writing and speaking skills, and explaining the pain-in-the-bum subtleties of the English Language that sometimes puzzle even my co-teachers, not to mention native speakers.

However, the other part of my role as an ETA is that of a cultural ambassador.  This role has led me to share some of my personal experiences with the small cultural anecdotes found in the student’s textbooks, to have long conversations with students over plates of nasi or mie about the similarities and differences between America and Indonesia that I have noticed thus far, and to give presentations to entire campuses about diversity in America.

One of the aspects of American culture my students seem to be most interested in is the holidays that are somewhat unique to America.  I have probably answered hundreds of questions about Independence Day and Thanksgiving, but the holiday with which my students seem most fascinated is Halloween.  So when October came around, I decided I needed to find a way to bring Halloween to my students.

It is important to note that my even being permitted to plan any kind of event for Halloween is a testament to how privileged I am in my placement.  Many ETAs were not permitted to introduce their students to Halloween, because it was perceived as contradictory to the standards of their area’s most prominent religion, be that a form of Islam or of Christianity.  This is not limited to Indonesia, of course, and I had a number of wonderful conversations with various students and teachers throughout the month of October about how, due to the diversity of religions and other belief systems in America, not all Americans celebrate Halloween, and those who do celebrate Halloween do not do so in the same way.

Because I was initially worried about how Halloween would be perceived here, I merely proposed the idea of carving Jack O’ Lanterns with students.  However, when I brought my idea forward, the students, as well as the adults, who are part of the dorm committee begged to be able to have costumes and scary stories as well.  Though I worried I would not be able to put together such additions in time, I could not bear to tell them no.  And so my small Halloween celebration grew.

The day of the Halloween Party came.  I had not had time to shop for a particularly complicated costume, so I dug into my closet for ideas, and eventually utilized the many scarves I had brought with me, as well as a deck of Harry Potter playing cards, to become a fortune teller.  It is not the best costume I have ever developed, but considering the tiny size of my wardrobe here, I’m quite proud of how it turned out.  I quickly practiced a favourite scary story from my childhood, grabbed my shopping bag full of candy for trick-or-treating, and headed to the party.

image

Of course, our Halloween celebration was not identical to those found in the United States, but the spirit of Halloween still permeated the event.  We were unable to acquire pumpkins to carve, and so used watermelons as an alternative, and my students’ artistic abilities were able to shine, quite literally, though the Jack O’ Lantern carving.  I was secretly quite glad that I was unable to carve my own in between helping groups of students, for my haphazard carving skills usually produce a terrifying result, even if I’m aiming for adorable.  I would have been embarrassed to place such a disaster next to the work of my students.  It was hard to believe that they had never carved a Jack O’ Lantern before, the way they expertly sketched and carved out classic Halloween faces.

image

image

image

Those students who dressed up had costumes that put mine to shame.  They had put together amazing outfits, and even used home-made face paint and marker to create scars, hollow eyes, and even dripping blood.  While many students came to the festivities dressed as vampires and zombies, a number of them also came as traditional Indonesian ghosts, such as Pocong (pronounced “Poh chong”), which I have often heard called the Indonesia jumping ghost.  Some costumes were adorable, and some were terrifying.  Many of the students also utilized their costumes later on, while they were telling scary stories, most of which were original compositions that combined Eastern and Western influences.

image

image

image

I had managed to create enough activities to include the entirety of my second campus, and my site mate even came to the party, and I found myself more than once just standing with a stupid smile on my face, so grateful that my students’ eagerness to participate in Halloween was able to create a magical experience out of what—due to various complications, changes, and setbacks—was mostly last-minute planning on my part.  Throughout the night, students thanked me again and again for their “first Halloween Party!” but I told them honestly that is was they who needed to be thanked.  I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of wonderful Halloween celebrations in America, full of fright and fun and in the company of friends that I love; but I have never before seen the kind of enthusiasm for Halloween night that I saw from my students, and they may have managed to do Halloween better than many Americans.  I will never again be able to go into the Halloween season without thinking of my incredible students here, and the greatest Halloween experience anyone could have asked for.

image

Song and Dance and the Ruminant Digestive System: My Experience with Idul Adha

It’s a story not unfamiliar to me, having grown up in a Catholic family: God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and because his love for his God is so strong, Abraham agrees, stopped only at the last moment by an angel sent from heaven, who provides him with a ram to sacrifice in Isaac’s stead.  In the Muslim tradition, Ibrahim (Abraham), is asked to sacrifice not Isaac but Ishmael, his son by his second wife, Hagar, the handmaiden of his first wife, Sarah.  Nonetheless, the essential theme of the story is still the same: that of a man who is willing to do anything for the God he loves.

It is this event that is celebrated during Eid al-Adha, or Idul Adha, as it is called in Indonesia.  Families and sometimes whole communities come together to pray and to emulate the sacrifice of Ibrahim by sacrificing cows, sheep, or goats of their own.  Traditionally, the meat is then divided into three parts, divided equally among the family; friends, relatives, and neighbors; and the poorer members of the community.

In the week leading up to this holiday, the landscape I always admired on my ride from the second to first campuses began to be populated more and more by goats, as well as the occasional cow.  It was not until I came across a pair of goats outside one of the academic buildings of the second campus that I really made the connection, and began to look forward to experiencing this holiday that, until a World Religions course I took my senior year of college, I confess I did not know existed.

image

Idul Adha, from my experience, is an all-weekend affair.  On Saturday, one of my students invited me to a “performance” that would occur later that evening.  I stepped into the hall above the library and found it had been redecorated to celebrate “Epic El Adha.”  It was the kind of gala that could have only been planned by high school students: there was storytelling and singing, and the loudest supportive cheering I have ever heard.  I understood only one of the stories, told by a brave student who had memorized her tale in English, but I was enraptured by the way in which students twisted their hands and wove their tales out of the air; I am sure their words were absolute magic.  The antics of the singing performances were easier to find familiar, as students pulled out their sass and dramatics and more often than not sought to emulate K-Pop videos.  I don’t know if I have smiled so much since coming to Malang.

image

After the performances, the students lined up outside of the dorms, preparing to parade about the surrounding village with flashlights, torches, and noise-makers.  I had only intended to watch the parade until it left the school grounds, but one of the students persuaded me to come along with them, saying, “You’ll never see anything like this in America.”  I did not have to be asked twice.

It was a loud and smoky experience, and as I watched some of the male students put water bottles smelling distinctly of gasoline to their lips so they could breathe fire using the torches they carried, I could not help but note that this was the kind of event that American schools would never allow.  I am not sure whether I am thankful or sorry for our safety regulations, but I am glad I had the opportunity to be swept along by students as they laughed and smiled and called out phrases I could not understand.

image

On Sunday the actual sacrifices occurred.  I missed what, at the time, I though was the main event because I had been waiting in my room for those who said they would fetch me, before realizing I had been forgotten in the excitement and decided to find my own way there.  By the time I arrived, the cow and two goats were already laid out on the grass being skinned and sectioned by some of the male teachers, staff, and older students.  One of the students met me as I approached and observed, “I think you are late, Miss.”  I smiled, and tried to decide whether I was disappointed or relieved.

I was never given the chance to come to a conclusion.  Some of the students invited me to where the meat was being divided: some for the school, some for the families who had donated the animals, and some for the surrounding community.  Older men hacked at joints until the meat was in more manageable pieces, and then it was everyone else’s job to carve the meat into smaller pieces, to be bagged and sorted for distribution.  Students worked together in groups to accomplish this task, laughing good-naturedly at their friends’ struggles and receiving occasional helpful advice from the bapak-bapak who were supervising the whole affair, and who often seemed every bit as amused as the students.  I helped a group of girls cut and weigh beef still warm from the life that had coursed through it only that morning with a small knife too dull for the task and a scale from one of the science labs.

image

At first, the students seemed doubtful as to whether or not they could trust their American teacher’s stomach around so much blood and flesh, but I quickly proved the utility of my steady farm girl hands as I gripped slippery chunks of meat and held on tight while my students leaned into their knives and cut it into the proper portions.  I held, they cut, the roles were reversed, and all the while we exchanged stories of different celebrations in our respective countries and words for different cuts of meat in our respective languages.

Later on, I was again able to make good use of my years of living on a dairy farm and being involved in my local 4-H club when two boys hauled over a basket of cattle organs.  Sitting on top of the heap was a piece of the reticulum, my favorite part of the ruminant stomach, and, without thinking, I expressed my excitement.  After learning from some of the students that they knew nothing of the wonders of animals with four compartments in their stomachs, I headed over to where these incredible innards had been unceremoniously dumped, awaiting their turn to be weighted and sorted, and asked the bapak-bapak nearby, “Maaf, boleh punya itu?”  They looked more than a little puzzled, but happily acquiesced, and soon I was trying to explain the different roles of each part of the stomach, using the simplest English I could manage.  The students, in turn, told me about a soup which would later be made from the very pieces of organ I was holding.  I have been told it is a dish I must try.

I am not sure if this is the kind of cultural exchange I agreed to facilitate when I signed up for my year as a Fulbright ETA.  I have the nagging suspicion that the joke many of my fellow ETAs made at orientation might just turn out to be true, and my students will end up learning more about dairy cows during my time here than about American culture, however that is defined.  But as I continued to help divide meat—we had by this time moved on to the two goats—with my students, sang along to the One Direction playing from someone’s mobile phone, and laughed at the boys who had commandeered a nearby hose to cool themselves after skinning the animals, I decided I was happy with this experience, and that that was all the defining it needed.

image