A Day in the Life: Fulbright Edition

6:15am. Cue the alarm. I roll over in bed. Just five more minutes, I groan. I’ve been drifting in and out of sleep since the 3:45am call to prayer woke me.

I drag my body off my square-framed mattress. My feet hit the cool tile floor. I slide on white slippers and lazily shuffle to the bathroom (scanning the corners for unfriendly pests as I go). I draw a cup of water from a large plastic bucket and dip my toothbrush in it. I spit over the shower drain then pour water on the floor to wash the toothpaste away. My feet are inadvertently drenched.

Ten minutes later, I’m dressed for school and pulling my blue backpack over my shoulders. Today I’m wearing a floor-length black skirt and long-sleeved purple batik (traditional Indonesian fabric) shirt. The other teachers at school wear pea-colored suits as uniforms. But, because I’m a foreigner and guest teacher, I can choose my clothes (as long as they cover an appropriate amount of skin).

I clumsily turn my motorbike around in the foyer, open the front gate to my house, and ride down the small incline outside my door. I park my motorbike for a minute on the cobbled street, run back inside to sweep out the cockroach carcasses that appeared overnight, lock the door, and pull the metal gate shut.

My commute to work is short: maybe six or seven minutes. Bapaks and ibus (older men and women) skirt past me on the road. Women sit sidesaddle on the back of motorbikes driven by men. Teenagers too young to legally drive zoom past me, cackling at the bule (foreigner).

I park in the teacher’s parking lot: a small four-post shelter that keeps motorbikes dry when it rains. Students pour out of small angkots (a form of public transporation), each pressing a 2,000 Rupiah bill ($0.15) into the driver’s hand. “Miss! Miss! Miss Sarah!” they call after me, waving profusely. I smile and return the greeting before entering the teacher’s room: a shared space filled to the brim with tiny desks and books. Teachers in Indonesia aren’t afforded their own classroom. Instead, rooms belong to a set group of students, and teachers move between classes, which makes the teacher’s room home base for over 40 people.

I squeeze into my desk and rummage through my basket of supplies. I pull out the folders for today’s classes: X MIA 5, XI IPA 3, and X MIA 4. I teach 10th grade (X) and 11th grade (XI) classes. MIA and IPA classes are students in the science track. IPS classes are for social students. But both tracks receive an equal amount of English instruction.

Dropping the selected folders into my backpack, I grab my bag of markers and head off. My first class, X MIA 5, is located behind the main row of buildings. To get there, I teeter over a rickety board placed above the gutter. Phew. I’m safe.

Today we’re talking about describing people. A student teacher accompanies me to class. She introduces new vocabulary to the students, translating words as necessary. When she finishes, the students dutifully copy the material into thin journals. I glare at the rowdy kids in back who are throwing pencils at each other. Teenagers.

Now it’s my turn. After three months of teaching, I’m still not comfortable in the classroom. I step in front of the white board, loudly shouting “Good morning!” to get everyone’s attention. “Good morning, Miss,” they reply in unison. I explain we’ll be doing an activity in pairs. One person will be given a picture, the other a blank piece of paper and markers. The person with the picture will give a description using the new words from today’s class. Their partner will create a drawing based on the description. Then, we’ll compare the two.

I pass out pictures, paper, and markers to each pair, and the students get to work. Some groups use their new English vocabulary, others cheat by using Indonesian or flat-out tracing the picture onto the blank piece of paper. But they all seem to have fun!

After their artwork is complete, each pair describes their drawing to the class. Doing these types of presentations is one of the only ways I’ve consistently gotten students to use English. Some drawings are lopsided and funny, others are true works of art! Everyone laughs and smiles. It’s a good day.

My next two classes run smoothly. In 11th grade, we practice expressing grief and sympathy. I repeat the lesson on describing people with my second 10th grade class.

After school, I hop on my motorbike, dodge students and potholes, and exit the school grounds through a black metal gate. Rush hour has yet to hit, but there are still a fair amount of motorbikes and cars on the road. I quickly fall in line, dodging trucks, weaving between cars, and liberally using my horn to say, “Hey! I’m coming!”

I arrive at Yellow Truck Coffee, one of my favorite spots, 20 minutes later. I park my motorbike in the side alley, greet the parking attendant, and walk inside. I order tea tampa gula (without sugar) and sweet and sour tofu. I love Yellow Truck because I feel safe here. It’s less than five blocks from UNILA, the largest university in Lampung and one of the only places where you can find foreigners, so here I’m usually surrounded by chill college students who could care less about the strange bule in the corner.

I spend the next two hours researching grad schools, editing for Indonesiaful (a super sweet website that you should check out!), and torrenting the latest episode of Jane the Virgin. My Fulbright sitemate, Matt, joins me at 4pm. He teaches at a vocational high school down the road that doesn’t get out until 3:30pm. We chat about school and split an order of spring rolls. Then I get lost in the internet rabbit hole again.

Hours pass and I’m still working on the same personal statement for grad school apps. Ugh. This is hard. Matt and I hop over to Mal Beomi Kedaton–the largest mall in the city–and wander around. There’s a car expo going on in the middle of the mall. Weird. We stop by Gramedia, the largest book store in the area, and I raid the school supplies section. I buy three new packs of markers (since the last three have magically disappeared at school), four stacks of paper, and three new white board markers. Matt and I grab dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant, I drop Matt off at his dorm (he doesn’t have a motorcycle), and I’m home by 8:30pm.

I sweep the title floor, fill my red bucket with water in the bathroom, and spray bug repellent around the doors and windows. I chase the scorpions out of the corners and line the edges of my walls with Bagus, a chalky substance that repels ants and cockroaches. When my water bucket is full, I flip off the breaker switch outside (the pipes leak if I leave it on). I wash my face in a small pail of water, then scrub today’s laundry in the same bucket. I brush my teeth over the shower drain again, and change into my pajamas.

It’s 9:30pm. I turn off the lights and settle into bed. I pull out my kindle and fall asleep reading Indonesia, Etc.–a book discussing Indonesia’s history, culture, and modern society. The sliding of metal gates and putt putt of motorcycle engines haunt my dreams.

I wake six hours later to the crow of roosters. Time to start again.

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