Here we are almost a month before I leave this country and many months since my last post. One reason for my rather remarkable dearth of posts is that at a certain point things stop being new and I stop needing to write about it to process. But as my time here comes to an end I think it would be good to describe what my life here actually is.

Chapter One: Before School

It is a Thursday morning. You wake up around 6am, partially because that’s when you’ve been waking up for the past 8 months and partially because the bright day is pouring into your room through the curtain that you left open (for this very function). It’s 6am so you have an hour before you have to be at school.

It is Thursday, which used to be batik day for everyone but now it is black and white day for teachers. Unfortunately you a) have only one style of white shirt and it’s just a simple t-shirt and b) think that black and white day makes everyone look like waitstaff, so fuck it, you’re going with batik. A nice custom-made batik blouse with 3/4 sleeves and loose and light black slacks do the trick. Long sleeves and pants are not what you would choose to wear in 91 degree weather with 80% humidity and no AC, but it is modest and not bringing attention to your looks is generally the goal here. Plus, this is very non-conservative Manado so you really don’t have much to complain about on the clothing front. You’re the one who chose to go to a country located within 5 degrees above or below the equator.

Sporting a custom-made batik shirt

Before heading out you double check that you have all your materials. This means anywhere between 100-400 photocopies for the various activities you have planned for your classes. You print and copy these usually the night or day before because who knows if the copier will be on/open/working the day of your classes.

You are Shalina, which means you procrastinate so you probably don’t leave for your 7am class (thankfully the only 7am class of the week) until 6:50 or 6:55. This is fine because your school is only about 5 minutes away on foot. Your path to the school takes you through Asrama Tentara (soldier’s dorms). Supposedly military people are housed here? You occasionally see them in uniform or fatigues pants. But mainly you see the tantas (aunties) and oms (uncles) who say “Selamat pagi!” to you every day. And you also see the children. It’s the morning so most of them are already headed to school, but don’t worry, you’ll definitely see them on your way home. One child, Vino, is just 2 years old but recognizes you.

“Mat pagi!” he calls to you.

“Selamat pagi, Vino!”

“Kak Shamina (or other variation of your name including Ina, Sha’ina, and Mina), ada gula-gula?” Sister Shalina, do you have candy?

Lol, no not this time, Vino. Silently you curse yourself for ever giving the children candy.

Vino is the one in front

Chapter Two: At School

You make it to school before the first bell rings. There are seven students in the classroom. Your co-teacher is not present. You check your phone and there is a message from him saying he’ll be late. You waver… Should you start with so few students? Without your co-teacher? You decide to wait a little bit for more students to arrive. I mean, we need at least some semblance of critical mass here, right? This class actually likes Hangman (some classes are very much over it) so you play a little bit of it, trying to stump the students and waiting for more students to show up.

After 10 or 15 minutes and maybe 5-8 more students showing up, you decide to start the lesson because you’re always prepared to teach the lesson alone (something you learned pretty early on in your grant). This week you are teaching about possessive pronouns and you’re excited to have them fill in the blanks and rearrange a simplified Goldilocks story. At about 7:25 your co-teacher arrives and apologizes for being late. You only kind of mind but it happens regularly enough that you generally plan for it and you like him as a teacher.

The rest of the lesson runs as smooth as can be expected. A mixture of you teaching, input from your co-teacher and usually two or so activities for the students to do. The students are comfortable with worksheets but any group work tends to need an individual explanation for each group and the time pressure for a 90 minute lesson that will be their only English all week always nags at every class. Before you know it, it’s 8:30 and you’re off to your second class.

You’re teaching the same grade but a different lesson. This time it is about “too” and “enough”. This co-teacher takes more of a backseat in teaching. Again you don’t mind. You’ve prepared to teach the lesson alone and you appreciate her occasional input and when she helps translate instructions if the students don’t understand. You have a couple nakal (naughty) students in this class, but they’re generally good kids. Your lessons go smoothly. A few students are way ahead of the class and finish their worksheets within minutes. You grimace, realizing that your lesson is not engineered well enough for multi-level classes. Sometimes you just let them hang out, sometimes you make them do more, sometimes you give them a tongue twister. Luckily the next activity is group work. The fast kids stick together, so you better break hearts and split them up.

It’s 10:00, your throat is already exhausted, and you’re famished! Luckily it’s break time! Istirahat lasts til 10:30 so you and two of your co-teachers head across the street to one of your favorite warungs and order what your order every day:tinutuan. That’s the traditional Manado porridge. It’s a rice porridge with a little rice porridge and a lot of vegetables–pumpkin, corn, kangkung (water spinach), and casava. You get it campur (mixed) meaning it has mie noodles too. Your teachers like to pile on the sambal roa (a chili relish made with roa fish) and kecap manis (a sweet and sticky soy sauce) but you’re a bit of a purist (and also vegetarian). Culinarily, this is the highlight of your day. Sometimes you pair your tinutua n with a boiled egg. Sometimes with perkedel jagung (corn fritters) or pisang goreng (fried bananas) and usually with es Nutrisari (basically iced Tang).


You can get ALL of this for under 15000 rupiah, or roughly $1.14 at current exchange rates. You will miss this when you go back to the states. Thinking about US prices makes your stomach turn. Knowing that you are making millions more in rupiah than the teachers you work with just through your stipend makes you uncomfortable. You cannot possibly ever tell your coworkers how much you make. When people ask about your salary you mumble through various explanations about how you don’t actually get a salary but it’s a living stipend.

And yet, if you eat with your co-teachers, they will insist on paying for you. You can count on one hand how many times you’ve gotten away with paying for yourself or others. Because of this you’re grateful that you only eat with teachers one or two times a week.

Your next class is with your sweetest co-teacher. You prepare a warm-up for the class and introduce the topic, which is happily the same as the last class. She talks about the topic while you write on the board and assist. You elaborate and give out the activities like the last class. Beautiful, smooth, satisfying. The students enjoy the last activity where each group is given recipes and ingredients and must figure out if they have too much, too many, just enough, or not enough of each ingredient. You enthusiastically whisk through the desks checking work, answering questions, ignoring how achey your feet are on the hard tile and concrete, blinking away the sweat that has begun its inexorable path down your forehead and into your eyes.

You end the class pleased, but also exhausted. Just one more class to go. Thankfully second istirahat comes first.

Your last class goes by in kind of a daze. You’re incredibly tired and maybe a little out of it. Luckily your co-teacher is here today (as a vice-principal he is often sent on assignments outside of school) and we are reviewing a “daily test” they took last week. Once the review is over your co-teacher asks you to give them an activity to do. Uhhh…. you were not prepared. You frantically think of some sort of writing exercise using grammar patterns they’ve learned.

But everyone is tired. You can tell your students are bored and uninterested. As your students half heartedly start the activity your co-teacher browses on his phone and you resist the urge to both close your eyes and to watch the clock. At 2:30 the rain starts and within minutes it’s a downpour. The roofs are perplexingly tiled with plastic fake terracotta tiles that thunder as the torrent of raindrops pummels them. Your voices are lost in the rumble and your co-teacher sighs. He says that we will end class 10 minutes early because honestly there’s no point to keep teaching if no one can hear you.

And you’re done! You are lucky and the rain only lasts half an hour this time so you don’t have to wait long to walk home.

Chapter Three: After School

At home you switch on your electricity to get the AC started (and send up a silent prayer of thanks that there is no power outage), rinse off your now muddy feet, and immediately strip naked. You’ve been hot, sweaty, and now you’re wet and muddy. The clothes are coming off. You sprawl on your bed waiting for the AC to cool and dry your body. Lying there, closing your eyes, this is your relief. For almost an hour your can just rest. You know that at 4 you and Sam (your sitemate) have promised the local kids that you would come do English lessons (aka songs, games, and drawing) with them. You know that you’ll probably convince yourself to go on run at 5:30. You know that you have to prepare for tomorrows lesson, come up with an activity for English Club, and print out more worksheets.

But right now you are resting. Your classes didn’t go too bad today and really that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.



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