How exactly do I spend my days in one of the busiest and strangest countries in the world? Well, dear reader, grab a seat and let me tell you!
First, a fair warning: I lead a pretty boring existence. Most days are spent lesson planning, reading, petting random cats, blogging or working remotely for a company back in the States. About two weekends a month are for traveling; one within Indonesia and the other to a country elsewhere in Southeast Asia. But like I said, this is a weird country so even mundane days are filled with quirky encounters and amusing situations that add to Indonesia’s already very high entertainment value.
Teacher or Indonesian cat whisperer?
6 AM. RISE & SHINE!
Wake up. Put on uber conservative work outfit. Slather Nutella on bread. Grab banana. Go! Now begins the arduous journey to school, which is only 8.7 miles from my apartment but takes an hour to get to. In this country, this time to mile ratio is not the exception, it’s the rule. The very frustrating and annoying rule..
8 AM. CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION!
Depending on the day and week, I teach 1-5 classes a day. Overall, I have 25 classes spread across six different grades bringing the total number of students I teach to a solid 800. I wish I were exaggerating. Because my school believes that I am the Superman of English (and boy do they overestimate my abilities) they have me teach 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th grades.
I’ve surprisingly come to enjoy teaching the little kiddos most because not only are 8 year olds tiny balls of massive energy who are incapable of lacking any form of enthusiasm, but they aren’t too cool for my antics yet. The latter is a real bonus since I’m usually animated and weird- a dangerous combination in even the best of circumstances. Plus, their brains are still young and mushy so they absorb language like sponges. Research supports this and I wish schools in the U.S. also started language classes in elementary rather than high school, but like the metric system, the use of fahrenheit and telling time, the good ol’ U.S. of A insists on being different from the rest of the world. Laaaaame.
10 AM. BREAK TIME
Time for lesson planning, napping and general re-charging of mental batteries. Also prime time to mingle with coworkers and, of course, take pictures together, lest we forget we are in Indonesia, a land where the millennial phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” is taken very, very seriously. I mean, if you didn’t take a picture at school, where you ever really there? The Indonesian answer is: No, you absolutely were not.
11 AM. BACK AT IT
I design my classes to be more game/activity heavy and I recently started doing pen-pals, which was orignally to be a small undertaking but after much correspondence to the USA and 160 letters later, it felt like it required a word much larger word than “small.” If this teaching gig doesn’t work out I’m very confident in my postal service skills.
I am also trying to learn my student’s names, which on it’s own is no easy task, but factor in that I have almost 1,000 students all of whom are in uniforms and half of which are wearing hijabs and it’s next to impossible. Seriously, it would be easier to carry an elephant on a tightrope caked with butter than remember everyone’s name. This doesn’t stop me from trying though! I want to make my students feel special and like I know them so it’s always a happy moment when I’m passing kids in the hall and can say, “Hey Nadia!” or “Whaddup Razan?” or do a cool handshake with little Dyo.
I also have to stay on top of it since my students have taken to playing a very cruel game where a small army of kids conduct a swift surprise attack and quiz me by asking, “Do you know my name!?” or “What’s my name!?” I can get maybe 4/27 of them.. Sometimes it can be as high as 10 names if I say, “Of course I know your name! It’s…” and then quickly mumble arbitrary sounds whilst pretending another kid has distracted me away in the other direction. Such a cruel test…
12 PM. FOOOOOOOOD
Around this time I am brought my lunch. (Yes, brought.) An older woman, who is valiantly trying to resurrect blue eyeliner, brings me food and coffee everyday, whether I like it or not. No matter where I am (and my schedule has me everywhere), this woman finds me. I could hide in the bushes behind a shed at the back of the property and she would still dutifully bring me lunch. Some days she even stands in front of me and stirs my coffee, which I try to convey is completely unnecessary, but she just happily nods her head yes and continues to stir. It’s been two months so I’ve all but given up fighting it, and really, I’d hate to shake up our little routine anyway.
On a related note, it is virtually impossible for me to starve in this country seeing as it is everyone’s sole mission to feed me. For example, food tends to slowly pile up on my desk througout the day. I accumulate crackers, coffee, and other unrequested, although not unappreciated, snacks from my silent food-fairies who place it there while I’m in class. If they do give it in person there is a quiet moment while I try whatever they gave me and once I say “Ooh, delicious!” clappter is known to occur. I’m conservative with the word “delicious” because they will instantly begin thrusting even more food at me.
2 PM. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: CAITLIN MUST PEE
I swear I don’t pee on a schedule or at precisely 2 PM everyday, but since it has become a daily large-scale event I figure it needs to be added somewhere. Bathroom trips are such a production that I strategically time or limit them throughout the day due to the mayhem they create, and if you recall my coffee intake you’ll understand the inherent difficulty in this task.
Step 1: Have at least 4 curious and concerned staff members ask where I’m going (a cultural difference I’m still getting used to). Typical phrases include: “Where are you going now!?” or “Miss. Caitlin, what are you doing?” Approriate response is: Calm down guys, I’m just throwing away my trash in the receptacle 10 feet from my desk then going to the bathroom, I’ll be back in 2.75 minutes, don’t worry.
Step 2: Be accosted en route by dozens of tiny students eagerly vying for my attention. (Seriously, I’m a superstar here and it’s equal parts awesome and terrifyingly overwhelming.) Do the traditional handshake with each child where they take my right hand and press it to their forehead or cheek. Conclude they are all insane as they run away giggling and shouting “Oh my gosh!” as if just personally anointed with a 1,000 years of good luck or they just touched his holiness of Indonesia, Justin Beiber.
Step 3: Enter bathroom. This is where the real fun begins because 9 times out of 10 I have garnered a following of girls who patiently wait outside the bathroom door while I find solace in the semi-privacy of the stall. (I say “semi” because I can hear them call out to each other, “Miss. Caitlin is here!” or “Miss. Caitlin is peeing!”)
Step 4: Attempt to exit bathroom stall, hit a wall of 7 year olds with fat smiles on their faces jumping up and down 15 inches in front of me in eager anticipation of my grand bathroom exit. Gingerly work through crowd of tiny bathroom groupies towards the sink.
Step 5: 20 minutes and 458 handshakes later, safely return back to desk.
Although I’d love to pee in peace, I can think of a lot worse things than being adored by a minitaure army of precious little humans who I’ve come to consider as my personal pee cheerleaders, or as I like to call them, my peeleaders. Oh, and in case you’re the curious type, here is a normal bathroom round these parts:
3:30 PM. THAT’S A WRAP!
School is out and it’s time to go home! Each afternoon I silently pray to whatever god is out there that there isn’t bad traffic but the transportation gods never show me mercy. Add to the mix a bajillion million pot holes in the road, locals driving like absolute lunatics, as well as random spurts of complete monsoonal rain and you have an idea of what my daily commute entails. Driving in Asia is such a delight…
5 PM. COMMENCE VEGETATIVE STATE
Most days I’m so wiped out from
bathroom trips teaching that I nap after getting home. If I haven’t immediately succumbed to sleep, I’m often in front of the TV with a gallon of chocolate milk in one hand and a giant bag of peanuts in the other while I flip between the only watchable things playing: a semi-entertaining Hollywood movie from the 90’s or a Jackie Chan movie. (If there is one thing you can count on Indonesia for it’s that they have a Jackie Chan movie playing.)
If I’m particularly ambitious I go to the coffeeshop near my place to spend some quality time with their beautiful WiFi connection. If I’m really motivated I go to the cafe/dog park where I can simultaneously engage in my finer skills: coffee drinking and dog stalking. Considering that I try to pet and play with people’s dogs (with permission, I swear), I’ve basically accepted that I’m Indonesia’s resident dogophile.
10 PM. SLEEEEEP!
Some days I’m so tired that I fall asleep at 8. Sometimes that happens even when I nap for a few hours after school… Other times I’m too enthralled by Jackie Chan’s fancy karate moves to fall asleep at a decent time. In any case, the day is done and it’s time to rest up to do it again tomorrow.