Thursday, August 11, 2011


I was walking home from having been stuck, poked, prodded, partially exanguinated in the name of medical research. I was thinking about everything that's wrong and wallowing in the certainty that everything is wrong. I was thinking about how lonely I've been. I was thinking about how I haven't written anything in months. I was thinking about my unanswered emails, my uncertain future, my unsatisfiable unhappiness. I was trying to think of one thing, just one, to be grateful for- gratitude being the only antidote I know for my depression- but kept coming up empty.  I decided there was no hope for it; the world is pain and that is all.

I thought about the words posted on the laboratory wall:

You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here
and whether or not it is clear to you
no doubt, the universe is unfolding as it should.

I wanted to remember them. I wanted to believe them.

I was two blocks from home when I saw the sign printed on lemon yellow paper:

Got Thirst?
Visit Ellie's Lemonade Stand. 25 cents
All money to go to feed the hungry in Somalia.

So I followed the signs to a table under a shady tree where two tow haired kids greeted me excitedly.

"You're our very first customer!"

"Well, I am honored."

"We have either lemonade or iced tea."

"Choices? Aren't we lucky here to have choices? I think I'll stick with lemonade."

I wished them luck and as I walked away I could hear them talking excitedly about their very first customer who had given them enough money for four lemonades!

I sipped my lemonade slowly. It was a magic elexir, a sliver of liquid sunshine for my cavernous soul.

I went home and wrote something for the first time in weeks.

- Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Leaving Eve

 "It's been so long since I've seen your face
And felt a part of this human race
You know, I've been living out of this here suitcase
for way to long."
- Ray Lamontagne "Joelene"

It's hard to believe, but I made it. Tomorrow morning I'll be on the ferry to Singapore never to return. (Well, some of my students really want me to come back when they dig up the time capsule, which seems unlikely money wise, but I told them I would try and, at least part of me, meant it.)

It's been a challenging year but I've learned a lot and have no regrets. If I'd known what day to day life here would be like I don't think I would have come but then I wouldn't have seen volcanoes erupting, Komodo dragons, the Baduy or Borobrodur. I would never have met the people who've made this experience so worthwhile: Adik, her friends in Banyuwangi, the Aussie photographer, the Sea Hermit, my students.

These last few months have been particularly difficult, very few things have gone the way I'd hoped, which sent me on a very long circuitous search for a place to land. In January I started searching for some way to begin working on my B.Ed when I returned but every step forward I was greeted with another obstacle. I tried looking for work but, few responses and a couple of scams later, I found myself back at the start with a possible full time job in education back home in Canada which would allow me to return to Uni to get some required courses to apply to the Faculty of Ed.

On the one hand, I would really like to see more of the world, but mostly I am ecstatic about the idea of staying in Canada, at least for a while. I have to agree with Dorothy, there really is no place like home. Of course, with the way this year's been going, there's still a very good chance I'll end up on this side of earth again come fall.

For now I'm off on a two week tour of Vietnam, my plans to see Cambodia and Laos having been, like so many other plans lately, not feasible due to financial and time constraints. I expect to resume posting with my 'Nam adventures sometime around the middle of July.

Until then, bismillah.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Schoooool's Out. For. Ever...

Well, not forever, but forever for 5C. We had our ups and downs but there was always something to learn inside our classroom and I'm going to miss them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


There are many times I have been filled with doubts about my ability to teach. It doesn't help that I have endured scathing glares and outright hostility from teachers at the school, particularly when I refuse to do my students' work for them. I must concede, I am unconventional in my methods by comparison to most of the teachers here. I listen to my students.

When they complained about losing half of their PE time to Exhibition preparation, I contacted the PE teacher, I booked the gym and made up games to practice math skills. The kids dubbed it "physical math". We built a rocket ship out of materials from the recycle room to practice geometry. We played cards, had a riddle or idiom of the day and tried to identify the origins of English words (thanks to the interest sparked by "Akeelah and the Bee"). We documented the building of bee hives, researched further when they were abandoned, and dissected abandoned hives and did post mortems on bees.We grew bacteria in petri dishes, played video games and invented the word "plearning". We had a time machine to practice conjugating our verbs and a game show with it's own theme song to stamp out bad grammar.  We had debates on topics like nuclear energy and cheating, we put on plays and had an entire wall devoted to graffiti. 

None of this was in the curriculum or approved of by the Filipino teaching contingent and I was, more often the not, the subject of twittering, malicious gossip that on more than one occasion became the focus of angry staff meetings. And sometimes, often lately, when one or two of my students just doesn't seem to grasp some basic task or idea I've despairingly decided that the Filipino teachers are right, and I really am a failure.

I've been feeling that keenly this last week, after the PYP exhibition. The accusing, castigating attitudes, responses and glares of the teachers, who have been doing my student's work for them all through their primary years, upon seeing what some of my student's culminating projects look like when a teacher says, "I will guide you but I will not do it for you" have, I must admit, left me deflated.

But, I just finished marking our final English test. The last question was a long answer question to assess how well they've mastered writing in an essay format (Intro, topic sentences, supporting paragraphs and conclusion). I had told them it would be a question about a book we've been reading which was met with a chorus of "Awww, Miiissss!!!" So, at the last minute, I changed it.

Write a short essay with the title “Grade Five Was the (choose your own adjective here) Year Ever.” Remember, you will need to support this opinion with examples.

I knew I was leaving myself wide open but, while I got the odd suck up response and quite a few brutally honest responses ("Grade Five Was One of the Most Chaotic Years Ever" was one of my faves)  Ceci's almost made me cry:

Grade Five Was the Coolest Year Ever

I think grade 5 is the coolest year, that's because we had done lots of cool things. Sometimes when we don't like the activity, we make it fun and exciting. One way is to play it in a game, while sometimes we make it a challenging activity. I like challenges and interesting activities, that is why I think grade 5 was the coolest year.

Challenging activities are usually difficulty. Sometimes people think the more challenging it is the more fun it is. That's because we get to think hard, and solve the challenge. To me, challenge is just like a game. We get to play, if we lose the game, it's just the same as failing in a challenge. In 5C, we made activities challenging and we played it in a game. When we play we learn. To me, it's a very cool way to learn.

Some interesting and cool activities we did are time-capsule, doing maths in P.E., scavenger hunt and more. In time-capsule, we get to dig a container/box full of our things, we even write a letter to our future. In maths P.E. we learned maths while playing P.E., which I think is a unique idea. We made reading fun too, especially in dear time. We get to read together and learn new words. When we read Encyclopedia Brown, the detective chapter book, we get to solve the mystery together.

To me, all things we did were cool, unique and interesting because we made learning fun for all. And we made activities challenging and interesting and fun too! 

What I love most about it, aside from the fact that, for a ten year old, she has perfect essay format doesn't she (?) is that "we" did it. Together. All of us. In fact, of all of the responses, only two mentioned me at all ("Ms. Corinne is kind" Ha! I still don't know where they get that from. I'm actually quite evil to them sometimes and I would love to be a fly on the wall when it suddenly dawns on them, in four or five years, how I manipulated them. "Hey, she was totally making that threat up..."). In 5C it was about the students, never about the teacher or her ego or her fears. It was about "we" and "us". For me, it really was about "them" and I'm so glad that that's how most of them feel in the end.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Things You Should Know By Your 35th Year (Or How I Learned That I Still Don't Know Anything)

1) How to Breathe: I am trying to quit smoking for the second time. It's easier this time, but it's still hard.

2) How to Smile: Even though your heart is breaking. Even though it's broken.

3) How to tell a Joke: "Ms. What's the password"

4) How to Kiss a Sailor: The same way you kiss a pilot only you ought to curse when you come up for air.

5) How to Love: Ask me in another decade.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ghosts, Goblins and Cultural Relativism

 "I got out of bed today, swear to God I couldn't see my face
I got out of bed today, staring at a ghost...
Well, where'd my body go?
Africa or Mexico?
Well, where'd my body go? "
- Weighty Ghost, Wintersleep

Asia is very superstitious. From fortune tellers to good luck charms and black magic there is a prescriptive action that must be taken to counterbalance the negative effects any previous actions may have stirred and then there are further rites and rituals to counteract the initial antidote and so on ad infinitum. Empiricism is, more often than not, met with skepticism, if not outright scorn.

One of my students warned me, "Ms. You must be careful to wash your..." (she had to pause here and ask the other girls for the correct English word but none of them knew) "ummm, you know the paper between your legs when you get your menster?"

"You mean pads when you menstruate?"

"Yes, yes! You must always wash all the blood from your pad before you trow it or else there is a deevil who will come and suck it and when she do she will be able to find you and she will live in your body."
By comparison, when I am accosted in the hallways by inquisitive students about Canadian superstitions, "Uh... well hockey players don't shave their beards before the Stanley Cup playoffs," is usually the best I can do. More often than not this is met with confused stares and students nodding carefully as they slowly back away.

My own students ask me at at least once a week if I believe in ghosts. I still haven't figured out a good answer so I tell them the truth. "Well, I think I've actually seen one or two, but maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me."

"Like how Ms?"

"Like maybe I thought I was awake but really I was still dreaming. Or maybe it was something I ate." A bit of indigestion, right Scrooge?

Indonesians can also be fantastically melodramatic, so when my roommate stopped by my classroom a few weeks ago to tell me a sixth grader had just been escorted down the hall, wailing that she'd seen a ghost in the mirror of the girls bathroom I wasn't really surprised. My own students have been telling me all about the school's ghosts since the day I arrived, including a boy who was their age when he died who can be spotted wandering the halls but mostly in the boys bathroom.

"They're so ridiculous!" the roommate said with a wink and a smile.

I don't know why but I felt suddenly compelled to confess. "Well they can be a bit over the top dramatic can't they, but I don't know, I saw something in the classroom a few weeks ago."

Nicholas had just returned from a trip to Singapore and brought a bag of chocolates to share with the class. I opened them after lunch and we all helped ourselves, myself included though I only had two before I herded them off to their music lesson. I ate two more when I got back to the classroom, gathered up my USB and some paper and went to the IT room to print some worksheets. I brought two more to share with Pak Guntur in the computer lab and then remembered I had forgotten my water so I headed back to class. On the way back I realized I had had too many chocolates, too much sugar.

When I walked into the classroom one of the boys was standing behind the credenza with his back to me, facing my desk. All I could see was the back of his head and shoulders but, while almost all the boys shared the ubiquitous crew cut I judged from the height it must be either Nicholas or Daren. Uncertain which I said sternly, "Hey, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be in music class." There was no response but he disappeared.

Now I was getting mad. Not so much at my student, though he knew I didn't take kindly to being ignored, much less playing hide and seek during class time, but more with Ms. Theresa who was constantly sending students back to me when she didn't feel like dealing with them.

"Hey!" I said again as I walked across the class to catch the culprit hiding behind the credenza, "I'm talking to you." But, it turns out, I was talking to myself.

The next week when my kids asked me if I believed in ghosts, I almost forgot myself. "You will never believe what happened...No, wait, I can't tell you that. Never mind."

"What Ms, what?!?!?"

"I can't tell you."

"Awww, why?"

"Because, you would never come back to class again," I laughed.

"Awwww, please?!?"

"On the last day of school at the class party."

The kids can't wait for the last day of school now. As for me, I still don't know if I believe in ghosts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I can never take you seriously
I can never take you home or
To the market either
But, mostly, I can never take you seriously.

All I want is to make nonsense with you
Sweet, silent, noisy nonsense
The kind that leaves no room for
Cryptic, riddled questions or
            Untangled horizons.

You make me want to throw all my work
Into the sea
Where it will churn in the writhing watery depths
beneath us
Promising me, with a gurgling sigh,
That I will never do anything great
I will never do anything worth doing
            And isn’t that plenty enough.

What have words ever done for us anyway?
Symbols on a page, stuttering gongs
Resounding at the event horizon
Of human hands and tongues that heaven knows are
Better suited for more godful things.

And when I reach for yours
I am not searching for your meandering
Lifeline under my fingers
Or the taste of your throbbing pulse pressed against
 my own.

I reach
because we already are;
I already am
And so