Monday, October 21, 2013

Faith to wonder at the Change

Today marks my 8th day of teaching in the village of Pagalungang, an hour north of the Indonesian border and 5 hours from Tenom (2 spent on dirt roads, and 1 on a riverboat).  I arrived here on October 13 at noon, and at 2 I was teaching my first English class.  All of those expectations that I had mentioned, well I feel like they came and flew by me. The past week has been much of me 'hitting the ground running' (thanks Peter!).  I am teaching three classes a day: a morning class for women and youth, and afternoon class for kids, and an evening class for women and men.  While I always start with a lesson plan, more often than not, I have learned to just go with the flow.  My students are all at different levels of English and so more often than not, being able to adapt and retain attention spans has been something I've had to rely on.  If teaching colors leads to playing "I spy,"  which leads to singing "Head and shoulders, knees, and toes," well,  I just embrace it.  To be honest, I have struggled with the knowledge that I am not going to be able to teach them everything I want to in the time that I am here, but I hope and pray that I can teach them some. And a big shout out to teachers here-making learning fun and creative is challenging.  We start each class warming up by stretching our muscles: reaching to the right; touching our toes, standing on our right foot, etc.  Afterwards, we begin our main lesson (so far we have covered the alphabet, colors, size, and body), sing a couple of songs, and then always play games to end class.

The last two weeks have been very much about embracing change.  The weekend before I came here, I journeyed to Kota Kinabalu (KK) where I stayed with another YAGM while I got a filling in my front tooth.  (Btw I'm totally fine, just bit into a rather hard seed on accident.)  While staying there I was reminded by the people around me that this is a beautiful world we live in.  Jenna welcomed me with open arms, and an open closet (I forgot a few things).  We got to talk about our placements and some of the experiences we have been having that have left us struggling to find words.  To be able to just be with someone experiencing the same thing was something I didn't know how badly I needed. I also got to attend a bible study and worship service while there that spoke again to embracing our faith. It was incredible 13 year-olds were leading us in worship and rockin' it.  And the message that we heard about the blessing of hope in Christ seemed to be speaking to some of those restless thoughts I had been having. It seemed to me that I was getting filled before leaving on the journey.

But this care that I have received in Tenom and KK hasn't stopped.  Here in Pagalungang, there definitely exists a language barrier that I didn't account for, but it doesn't seem to matter.  The people are of the Indigenous Sabahan tribe, the Murut and speak Murut; Bahasa Melayu is their second language.  I started out knowing one word in Murut: "Makau," it means, "Go."  While it is a pretty good word to know, it sometimes left me lacking.  Fortunately, there are six women who have essentially adopted me.  They are all cousins: Kuja, Jus, Zaiton, Aryani, Goy, and Sofia...(I asked today how many cousins Kuja had and she said "lebih seratus"..."more than a hundred."  One big family.  They sleep in one of the rooms next to mine, they eat with me, they take me around the village, they teach me words in Murut, they laugh with me...they are my friends.  And last night while we we were cooking dinner, in the midst of laughter and giggles, I had that same feeling of being home as I did in Tenom, feeling love.

Peter asked us to read Genesis 12:1-6 as we reflected on our week.  God calls Abraham to leave his home and venture out to the land God promises him.  It is a huge change, and when I think about my last month here I feel in someways very much like Abraham.  I have always like to think of myself as someone who leaned in and embraced change.  I love the challenge of something new, meeting new people and learning.  These things are true, but something that I have realized this past month is how badly I want to be able to figure things out.  I want to be able to speak Malay, I want to 'start' at my placement.  I want to start having deep, meaningful conversations with people.  It's not to say that none of these things happened in Tenom during the first four weeks I was there, they just didn't happen in the ways that I expected them, too.  Ah now I have been fighting the urge to "make sense" of my surroundings and just awe at the wonder of it all.  Like today, the fact that I had 41 little ones, ages 7 to 13 years, in my afternoon class, and the wonder that all of them played red light-green light and LOVED it.  How? I don't know; I think it was a God moment.  Or maybe the 5 ten-year old  boys clustered around my white board furiously copying down a stick-figure of the human body I had drawn.  God is here and is present with these people and I feel blessed to share this world, even for a short time, with them.  Faith to wonder is what I pray for, for you, and for me.

I also think it is a God moment that Pagalungang has internet...    

Taking that first step

My country coordinator recently had us watch a short clip called "Where the Hell is Matt?"  In it, Matthew Harding dances with people all around the world.  He has to start dancing before others will's like that awkward moment at the start of high school dance where no one wants to be the first to start dancing, but you know that after someone starts it will be so much more fun.  Matt starts the dance.  

I have been in Malaysia now for over a month and in Tenom now for two weeks. Unlike many of the other YAGM I didn't start working right away. I feel like it has been a blessing in many ways that I have had time to truly settle: wander the town, practice my language skills, and communicate back home with people that I love and miss. Each day during my first week I walked into town, and while it may seem silly, every time I entered a shop and felt the eyes of all who were in that shop gravitate towards me, I could hear my heart pounding. I never was sure what would be in each shop, I had to go in to find out: to read labels, to see words, to make meaning out of a language that was foreign to me. Part of me dreaded, while another part hoped for a conversation to attempt at communicating. And while I faced this fear over and over, it was constantly washed away by either a friendly smile, a question of where I was from, or a wave goodbye. As I was browsing the cooking-ware, twelve-year old boy from Sabah Agricultural Park shuffled over next to me with a huge smile on his face, "Excuse me, Miss. Where are you from?" He was talking to me! I was so excited to meet someone (I think it's that feeling of being new in town and never having enough friends). And between my English and his Malay we were able to have a conversation. If I hadn't left my comfort zone, I never would have gotten the joy of talking with a kid who seemed to be so happy to talk with me. This happened in various forms in my adventures around Tenom; whether be at the market, in a restaurant, or even in another shop. More often than not I had to face that fear of taking the first step into the darkness and unknown and afterwards found a new friend, conversation, a laugh, or even a smile.

I haven't yet introduced you to some of the people here, and so today I would like my two families to meet. These are people who have made my first two weeks (now 4) in Tenom feel like I have been here for months. They have walked with me as I have learned to figure somethings out and also not figure out somethings out (and be okay in that).

Ester: Ester is one of my two housemates. She is 25 and a nurse at the clinic in Tenom. She is one hardworking gal and also one of the most kind people I know. She loves Korean dramas, plays the guitar, sings in the shower (very well), and also loves her chili sauce. Ester is the youth director at the Church and so its been fun to plan games with her and hear her messages during youth group. Ester's first language is Malay, and so I am constantly asking her a million questions and she faces them all with so much patience and earnest desire to understand me. We have spent many a night having a conversation with both our laptops set to google translate and while it sounds like it could be tiresome, it is amazing how satisfying it is when we do understand each other, especially when we are talking about religion, culture, or family, some conversations that I think are difficult to have in English. I feel like I am always learning around Ester; she is a natural teacher.

Thorothy: My other housemate. She is 22 and works for Pastor Lucy (my supervisor) and also helps with a lot of Church programming. She always has a smile on her face and is also always checking in with me. Thorothy loves to laugh and also loves to watch Korean dramas (they are really popular over here). On one of my first days here Thorothy told me that she loves to swim, and so later when we we were at the swimming pool I asked her why she was only hanging onto the wall. Thorothy doesn't know how to swim, but she stills loves being in the water and therefore loves swimming. When I think of myself I think of the things that I like and they are things that I am "good" at or things I think I can do. I don't tend to like the things that I am not good at. I spent the afternoon teaching her and a couple of kids at the pool how to doggie-paddle and float. Trickier than you would think in broken Malay-English! haha. I later found out that Thorothy almost drowned when she was younger; and yet she loves water and is excited at the idea of us all going to the pool. That's the thing about Thorothy; she chooses to meet things with joy and excitement.    

The past 4 weeks Ester, Thorothy and I have spent many a night cooking and baking; whether that be lentils, fish, chicken, pudding, cookies, even making our own teh-tarik. These nights have been some of my favorite nights as we take turns around the stove or on the cutting board and end around the table with full bellies and full hearts.

Julius and Ros: They are a husband wife team who own the restaurant beside the shop that Pastor Lucy and her family own and live above. I ordered roti canai and teh tarik one day and asked Julius a question about his restaurant, "Bismillah." We ended up talking for a couple hours. After that I came back almost every day. Julius will whip out a plate with some sort of fried pastry and some kopi-O as soon as he sees me, and then him and his wife sit next to me (my dictionary in hand) and we talk. I tell them about America, my family, and they tell me about Malaysia and their family. They help me with my Malay and I help them with their English. It's one of my favorite times of day-when I can sit and visit with Julius and Ros.

While my weekdays have largely been spent practicing my English, my weekends are devoted to Church activities. On Friday nights, we have prayer circles and either visit at a church member's house or meet at the BCCM Church in Tenom. Saturdays we have youth group in the evening and then on Sundays we have a morning service in Tenom and later have an afternoon service in Mensasoh, the village BCCM Tenom has a relationship with. I also have accompanied Auntie Helen to Mensasoh and Keningnau on other Church business; whether to visit someone in the hospital or prayer visits outside of Tenom. I may not have officially started at a worksite with a set schedule where I know what I am doing; I look back on the last four weeks and know that I have started to create relationships with people that I already care deeply about. These people have taken me under their wings and helped me to take that leap into the unknown. It has been in these moments of community that I have found renewment and fulfillment.

"Living,” said dancer/choreographer Agnes DeMille, “is a form of not being sure, of not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong. But we take leap after leap in the dark." I guess you have got to take that risk of being the first person to dance; maybe it will be a flop, but then maybe it will be something so special, it's hard to put into words.