I remembered the first day I entered their class. They were a bunch of kids, passive, timid, and very quiet. I wasn't quite sure whether they even understood me albeit me speaking in very simple, 'baku' Malay... I was being enthusiastic, while not really getting much response from them.... At the back of my mind, I kept hearing voices from my fellow colleagues saying, 'mereka senang nak ajar, suka salin nota dan tidak bising.'
Suddenly, a big group of Malay boys walked past the class, playing truant as usual. Clothes untucked, loud and disrespectful... these boys were shouting 'babi', 'kotor', 'balik hutan lah' etc and I could see the pained faces of my kids. Immediately, I stood out of the class, called them out for being 'kurang ajar', and telling them that these kids who chose to be in the class instead of 'derak' like them have higher chances of succeeding. "At least", I told them, "these kids have the will to learn while you are out wasting your time and your life, doing stupid things while thinking too highly of yourself."
Right after that, I went back to the class and told the Asli kids, not to be affected by the hurtful words from the boys, and don't bother stooping down to their level. They suddenly became rowdy and started telling me how often they were teased, bullied, and even pushed around by those students.
That was exactly when, I felt the need to reassure them to be proud of their roots. I started telling them that "I respect them", which led to them looking at me in disbelief.
I said, I could not imagine having to leave my home as young as 13 (or even younger), go somewhere hours away, being put into hostel life, forced to eat food I am not accustomed to, being asked to study in languages I am not accustomed to then labeled as academically weak because I could not perform well when everything I learn is in a foreign language, being frowned upon for being different, being misrepresented and misunderstood, and not having the luxury of confiding in my own family whenever I need to.
I told them that they are brave. And despite all odds, they have a beautiful culture and background, which are the essence of who they are. Hence I started aligning my lessons with them, with a stronger focus on their Temiar heritage.
We had so much laughter in the class and they excitedly described to me how they prepare their yam balig (pronounced as nyam balik) and tried to convince me that roasted bats are yummy lol.
For one of my lessons with them, we created lil handbooks of these.
Much thanks to the generous supply of stationery I now have, the students had real fun creating their lil books. Even though it was already their recess time, they refused to go to the canteen and asked whether I could stay a lil longer while they try to make their books prettier. How could I say no to that?
And so I sat down, and those who had already finished theirs came crowding around me, asking me questions, telling me stuff, while taking turns to stroke my hair (seriously, they been telling me that they love my hair lol). Then one girl asked whether I like Kpop, which I answered that I know quite a bit about it... Then she proceeded telling me that I look like 'onji' from 'epen'... which totally made me go 'what?'... I later figured out she meant Eunji from Apink lol, and apparently they all chimed in and said I look like her... I told them I think that celebrity is quite young while I am old. They, such angels, told me I am young too because I am only 21. SO SO SO FREAKING HAPPY OKAY. lol
How not to love them?
PS. They want to teach me how to dance Sewang too
PSS. The boys actually help me to rearrange my 'Magic Box' every time after they used the stationery