Friday, November 29, 2013

I Live Here.

This morning I woke up in my bed at about 6:00.  Despite my hardest efforts at sleeping in, I've learned that it just is not going to happen.  The sun comes in my windows a few minutes before 6 each morning, mother nature's alarm clock, if you will.  I got out of my bed around 7, filled my laundry bucket with water and detergent, then pushed my clothes down for them to soak while I crawled back in bed for about 45 more minutes.  After talking with my family about their Black Friday buys, I got out of bed, walked downstairs, said good morning to Mrs. Soong, and began washing my clothes.  I walked outside to give them a final ringing out and hung them to dry.  I went back to my room to get dressed and packed up my bookbag to head into town.  I've learned to never leave home without an umbrella (tropical country), tissues (bathrooms, restaurants... you just never know), and a jacket (yes, this is a hot country, but I frequently get goose bumps in places with air conditioning) in my bag.  As I walked down the street, I passed the dogs that sometimes decide to chase me, but I think I've learned how to hide my fear ;).  I turned the corner onto the main road to my bus stop which happens to be where I buy my pau, so I had to stop and buy one for the road!  The girl who usually takes my order (and by that I mean knows my order and now just hands me my pau without asking what I want) wasn't at the front, so I had to order today.  I looked around the restaurant and saw the usual morning staff and gave them a wave.  As I walked down the road, I looked to my left to see the school bus stop that I sat at for a good 30 minutes in my first weeks in KK before realizing that it was a school bus stop and that I would not be able to catch a bus into town from there.  I turned at the stoplight with my bus stop in sight, I turned to look behind me and saw a bus was approaching, so I gave a wave to let them know I wanted them to stop.  My first time going into the city, 5 buses passed me before I realized you had to give them some sort of sign to stop.  For awhile, I flailed (probably excessively) to make sure they saw me, now I know just a simple wave will do.  On the bus, I went ahead and pulled out my 1 ringget fare for the bus, as you never know when they will walk by to collect money, you don't want to be the one that holds the man up.  The bus pulled into KK, I got off and made my way to the places I needed to go today.  Especially in KK, I often pass other "orang puti", white people, tourists from Australia or Europe.  Today I saw an exceptionally large number since a cruise ship has started docking in KK.  With their maps in hand, fumbling with their ringget, I smiled to myself, since that was me not too long ago (/sometimes I still am clueless... let's be real), but now, in my routine, through trial and error and lots of guidance, I can say that I know how to do at least some of this now, because I live here. And that is a pretty cool feeling.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saya Ada Banyak Untuk Bersyukur Untuk

The title of this blog comes from my attempt at translating a great song from camp, I've Got So Much to be Thankful For (maybe it's just called "So Much".... details.).
To be honest, today started a little teary on my end. When I told someone it was Thanksgiving today, I thought about the traditions I would be missing, especially my whole family being together.  I figured holidays would be tricky to navigate. But, as the day went on, I was more aware of how much I have to be thankful for today, and everyday here in KK. So, here is my list of things I experienced today, this week, and since my time arriving in Malaysia:
1. Hospitality- Countless people have welcomed me into this community. I have been invited into family gatherings, weddings, dinners, movies, and workplaces just to name a few, and have been shown around and looked after since arriving. There are so many people giving me warm and loving welcomes into this new place.
2. Patience- Today I was reminded of this one. I have started working full time at Cheshire Home now that school is on holiday. Monday-Wednesday I helped in the nursery, today I was out in the home helping residents and staff with daily activities. My Malay is still pretty rough, but today I had several conversations in Malay, with the help of repetition and hand gestures, I really felt that people wanted me to learn and wanted to be helpful in teaching me. I am so thankful for those conversations and for those who are patient enough to talk with me and teach me.
3. Support- The web of support in this year is pretty mind-blowing. I have my family and friends back at home, sending church communities, the ELCA Global Mission staff, local program support in Malaysia, site supervisors, fellow teachers and staff in my workplaces, receiving church congregations with the BCCM, and friends I've made here. Knowing that so many people are present in this year with me is so humbling and so encouraging. A lot of peace comes from knowing I'm not alone in this year.
4. People- The people in my life are pretty amazing. I have a wonderful "landlady", Mrs. Soong who goes far above and beyond that title to make me feel taken care of and cared for each day. I have wonderful teachers at school who have taken me under their wings and welcomed me in countless ways. I have my kids (who even though the school year is finished and they will move onto a new class in January, I'll still call them mine) who quickly turned me from a random white girl in their class to "Teacher Sarah".  I have the staff at Cheshire Home who teach me everything from language to how to make fried banana donuts.  I have the residents at Cheshire Home whose smiles, hugs, and conversations bring serious joy into my life. I have church communities: cell group, caroling, Sunday worship, and Girl's Brigade who have welcomed me in as a member of the same Body of Christ.
5. Grace- As wonderfully perfect as I want this year to go, I make mistakes and have regrets. Whether it's been making cultural mistakes, language mistakes, not trying as hard as I should, or just being too hard on myself, I am so thankful for the grace received from everyone in my community, acknowledging the mistake, but giving hope for a new and better next time.

Some highs just from today were:
1. Making hand turkeys with one of the girls I teach english to.
2. Learning and remembering (I often learn new words, but a few minutes later have forgotten them) several new words in malay including hair- rambut and sour-masam.
3. Having a car stop next to me on my walk home from getting a loaf of bread that was a mom of one of my kids. Having her recognize me (although I guess I do stick out a bit) and stop to talk to me and hear about her daughter meant so much!
4. Finding a free online music site since Pandora doesn't work in these parts of the world, so now I can listen to Christmas music!!

So, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! To those of you in America, eat some turkey, green bean casserole, and pecan pie for me! To all of you, there's never a bad day for being thankful, or a bad day for eating turkey, for that matter. So get on both of those!  But really, Happy Thanksgiving! Love from Malaysia.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Lesson from Mr. T

I love riding the buses here in KK. It is always an adventure, from the music to the people to paying the right person at the right time, I always enjoy myself.  Actually, my first bus ride in KK was so crowded that I was literally sitting on a man's shoulder the entire trip.  Ridiculous.  One of these days I'm going to take a video for you to experience the craziness with me.  But, I especially love when I get to sit next to someone who I end up having a conversation with.  Once, I was next to a woman and her adorable baby and talked about her children and what I enjoyed most about Malaysia.  I learned she was from the Philippines and moved here with her family because Malaysia offered a more hopeful future for her and her family.
My most recent bus ride, I sat next to a man who did not look like a local, he looked more Middle Eastern, so I wasn't sure if he would speak Malay or English or neither.  So, I asked his name in Malay and he answered.  He had an Arabic name that I can't remember for spelling, so let's call him Mr. T.  Mr. T was from Palestine and between my broken Malay and his broken English, we learned about each other's lives.  He is a business man in the Likas area, he has 3 children, and his family moved to Malaysia from Palestine because of the oppression the Palestinian people face.  He has not gone back to Palestine since leaving, but was excited to learn that I had been there a few years back.  Through a smile, he told me that Palestine is not good for Muslims, but Malaysia is.  As my stop approached, the man collecting bus fare passed by and Mr. T pulled out his wallet to cover my ride.  My friend I was riding with had already paid for mine.  "Next time," Mr. T said to me.
It is easy to place a generalization on a person, a race, or even a country.  It would be easy to place a stereotype on Mr. T for why he came to Malaysia.  We all know of stereotypes assigned to various races and religions, so I don't feel the need to spell those out for you.  The point I want to make is that every person has a story and a reason for doing what they do.  Mr. T had a story of oppression and seeking a life that did not cause him to live in fear.  Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country which does allow freedom of religion.  Like most countries, from what I've observed this freedom isn't perfectly practiced, but overall people live in peace here.  Thinking about Mr. T, look at what he has fled from.  He's left his homeland which is being torn apart by conflict to come to a country where his race and his religion are not factors for discrimination.  For me, that is something to be respected.
People are moving more and more in our world today, immigration is something that many countries are experiencing and working to figure out the best way to manage.  My hope would be that as we look at who is coming into our towns, states, and countries, we look at why.  We don't immediately place a judgement on these people, but we find out their story.  From stories, people become people--unique individuals with emotions and reasons for living.  And once you are looking at a person and not an object, any ideas you form or decisions you make come from a completely different place, a place of empathy for another human being.

Hopefully there will be a next time, Mr. T.  I'd like to learn more from you.

Real Talk.

These are just some fun facts about my Malaysian life:

1. Climate: It's hot, y'all.  I mean, it's November and I can tell you right now it will be in the 90's and/or raining tomorrow.  I drink at least 3 liters of water a day (Today I think was somewhere around 4.5) and still find myself feeling dehydrated.  There have been days when I've come into my room and turned on my AC and put my fan right on me so I can get under my quilt I brought (yes, I brought a quilt to a country that is only a few degrees above the equator) and pretend it is fall.
2. What I brought: Speaking of weird packing things, I felt the need to bring 8 scarves to a country that does not ever see below 85 degrees, so there's that.
3. My appearance: Those of you who knew me before I arrived in Malaysia know I have hi-lighted my hair since high school.  But before I came to Malaysia, I decided to go back to my "natural" color, which I assumed was more brown.  Surprise, people!  Sarah has blonde roots.  Also, I thought I was going to have to dress wayyy more conservatively than I do.  I bought so many long skirts and pants before coming here only to find that appropriate shorts and even some tank tops are perfectly acceptable (at least where I live, I can't speak for all of Malaysia).  The good news is that my skirts are comfortable.  The bad news, see #1.
4. Laundry: Hand washing clothes is a time commitment. It is quite theraputic, but at times I've found myself with more dirty clothes than time to wash them.  Enter: febreeze.  I'm telling you what, I went through 1 bottle in a month and its awesome.  I used to use pinterest for things like recipes, now I'm using it for DIY febreeze directions bc I use it so much.

I feel like all my blog posts thus far have ended with some sort of lesson I've learned or a nice conclusion.  But for this one, all I have to say is that I'm clearly still getting adjusted and laughing at myself for some of my preparation decisions.  Life is good.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Highs and Lows

I have lots of wonderful memories from my senior year at PC! Life in C5 with my best friends was seriously the best. Actually, we are going to need to make a C5 part 2 when I get back to America, but that's another story. 
One of my favorite things we did as a townhouse was roomie family dinners. These always happened by candlelight in our dining room and were cell phone free :) At each meal, we always did "highs and lows" since most of us had some sort of camp background. Highs and lows, peaks and pits, pows and wows, call them what you want, I find to be both a great way to process your day and hold you accountable throughout the day. At camp one summer, it was explained to me that if you are thinking throughout the day what will be the thing you are most thankful for and what will be the thing you most regret, you will recognize the things you will most regret as they happen and will work to change those situations as you can.  
I was really good about journaling when I got here, but as my schedule has gotten busier and busier, unfortunately personal refection time has been something I've done less and less. But today, I was reminded of this exercise I committed to in my journal of asking myself each day what I was most thankful for and what my biggest regret was.  I thought about this today after I left the kindergarten concert rehearsal.  I realized that I let my tiredness get the best of me and I wasn't as engaged with my kids as I would like to have been.  With only a week and a half left with them before the end of the school year, I need to be taking in all the time I can with these precious nuggets.  Then later in the day at Cheshire Home, I was standing around in the office after our meeting got out with about 10 minutes before I got off for the day.  I realized that it had been 2 days since I mingled with the residents and I hadn't talked to the girls I teach english to about why I hadn't seen them.  I didn't want this to be another regret of the day, so I walked outside and found Kura Kura and said something along these lines, "Maffkan saya kami tidak pelajar bahasa english hari ini. Saya ada meeting. Esok boleh?" (I think I said: "I'm sorry we didn't learn english today.  I had a meeting.  Tomorrow can?"... Is that even correct BM? Probably not...) She put her hand on my arm, smiled, and told me it was ok, that she understood, and tomorrow we would learn.  This, friends, was what I was most thankful for today: the reminder that as we have regrets and fall short, that there is grace surrounding us and always a chance to try again. 

So while "highs and lows" may seem like something you did as a kid at camp, I'm still finding that the practice can spur you on throughout the day to move toward more thankful moments and fewer moments of regret. Tonight I'm thankful that God uses both the moments of thankfulness and the moments of regret to teach us.