Cikgu Huda

Night “studio” Visitors

(Last edited on September 27, 2016)

Bobbles of heads bouncing in the dark with murmurs of laughter and whispers of discussion dispersed amongst the gathered teenagers.

I see the spotlight shining down brightly onto the assembly ground. A crack from the hailer silenced all the white noise. Loud and clear, I hear a familiar voice from the school warden, “Selamat petang murid-murid…” Everynight, students assemble before they go off for night classes, where they try to finish their homework or try to study. I see this all the time as I make my way to the Art Room way after school hours, but at night when things are supposedly calmer and quieter.

When I am there, I also get night visitors, consisting of various students from various forms who are curious why am I there at such odd working hours. I would ask them back, “Apa lah kamu buat di sini?” Once, a kid who just transferred from Sabah told me, “Tapi, kan cikgu dah tahu masalah kami… Takda tempat mok study bah.” On a more personal note, I feel the same way with my quarters. There is no space to do work. I don’t like to do work in my bedroom. The call for sleep would be stronger than the will to work. So, I would run off to someplace else; the office; the studio; the art room. Coincidentally, that office is situated right in front of the boys hostel block.

Hence, as I turned on the light, flocks of creepy crawlies called students will creep into the studio…. to disturb me. “We just want to study, teacher.” or “Cikgu! Cikgu! Aku ada soalan…” or “Cikgu, cikgu Huda, ulih ku nanya…?” When one goes off, another comes in. A string of students, always the same bunch sometimes… would make sure my night becomes as busy as my mornings… and I wonder, are they simply doing this to test me? They told me once in the most honest tone… “Sebenarnya… kami tak pernah nampak cikgu marah…” My face changed (yet my smile is still unchanged), “Oooooh, so kamu nak cikgu marah lah ni?” There was a pause.

He broke the silence with, “Boleh, cikgu.” with an added mischievous look on his face.

(After reading it again on May 8, 2017)

I didn’t get mad at him. Infact, I smiled and chuckled together with them. I glanced at the clock in the art room. 10.00 pm. I didn’t want to go back too late, my housemate would latch the door and leave me outside! Well, she never did that in real life, but she liked to joke about it. I rather not test her patience. I looked back at my students who just wanted to disturb a new face in the school. They didn’t want to sleep, but I didn’t want to be the culprit of their ‘panda eyes’ tomorrow morning. So, I reminded them that it was getting late and told them to return to their hostel block as I continued to pack my stuff to return to my teacher quarters.

The stars were bright as they always were. The countless sparkles accompanied me back to my quarters safely. No dogs resting at my quarters stairs. No random insects crawled up my leg. No gigantic cicadas singing out loud as a lorry engine and buzzing by the spotlight of my front door. I climbed up the stairs slowly, taking in a deep breath of the chilly night air. I took another look at the starry night sky.

Alhamdulillah, for giving me another reason to smile.
I wonder how long can my heart stay here.

Even long after I have left the outskirt settlements of Lambir, I still think of the art room.
A place that I could be myself again, a break from the monotony of being just another teacher. A reminder that I can find a glow of hope in the middle of nothingness.

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The Wide-Eyed Nocturnal Monster

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If I could draw a monster that represents myself, it would be a nocturnal creature that comes out only when the sun sleeps. I would have a semi-permeable skin that would reveal all that I am made of, underneath my epidermis layer where veins crisscross over each other and intertwine around such important organs such as the heart. At night, my heart takes over my mind and would go over the happenings that made up the day that was. If it was an interesting day, I would recount the things said and seen, causing me to sleep late; If it was an intriguing day, I would wonder awake longer and also shut down later than usual; If it was both an intriguing and interesting day, chances are I won’t be able to sleep.

There was once, the feeling not being able to sleep led me to overthinking about my existence that eventually led me to experience a dark moment of mild depression. That was when I realised that I cannot really live alone. So, in order to keep myself intact from breaking loose into the monster I am… I would need to find another person who would opt to mutually benefit from holding each other accountable for our own monsters. Indeed, that would be the ideal. But that is not reality. The idealist in me is often shut down by the bigger realist in me that tells me to stop dreaming when I am awake.

Being self-aware of my humanly habits within my monster self, I wonder if this is a curse or a gift from God. At night, when I am alone, creativity comes looming at me. The longer I think of something, the more it will take form within my head, almost instinctively shaping the textures and inducing imagination where necessary.

I have read and heard a few speeches online that links creativity with nocturnal habits. Yay! I have also read that sleeping late and waking late will rewire something within and someday take a toll on my bodily systems and important organs one by one. Sounds like a beginning of a horror story. I don’t know whether to rejoice with laughter or weep quietly at a corner.

You see, each of us have our own monsters within us. I am not speaking of physical and invisible beings or any Fantastic Beasts, but rather the metaphorical monsters that exists in all of us. Our habits, our preferences, our decisions, our choices could be the next monster that we want nothing to do with. Or the very monsters that we try to suppress could be the one thing we wished we did, said or worked with. Sometimes fighting off our monsters within us will make us regret our waking moments we have left on this earth. I know I have monsters within me and if I do not try to understand and comprehend (and perhaps, make peace with) them myself, I know no one else will.

Being aware of our habits can help us make informed choices of what to do next. Being aware of what good habits we have and what bad habits we have is one step away from improving oneself, holistically. Just like visual storytelling and visual compositions, there are elements to follow and guide our artwork to be used in accordance to the message that it is trying to convey. The more we are aware of those elements of art, the more it will be effective to arrange them for a clearer and better message. Hence, we can arrange them in a way to expose our main ideas or hide it further. The function of the visual composition is completely up to the one who made it. This can all be learnt by trial and error, accordingly. Thus, we can learn how to diminish a habit bit by bit or start a new habit. Once we know what habits we have, we can slowly start to tackle them one by one and slowly adopt those good habits to be… a better person, insyaAllah 🙂

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Adiwiraku

As the opening scene of the school highlighted a new school year, it sent chills down my tummy. It was the all too familiar feeling I haven’t felt in a while now. The title literally translates to ‘My Heroes’. It was a Bahasa Melayu rendition of “My Superheroes”, which carries a deeper and heavier meaning than your average superheroes that exists in imaginary worlds. Heroes really are the ordinary people around us who did or are doing more than what they thought they can do. The movie felt so real, that heroes can be literally anywhere only if we took time to observe and understand more. In the movie, the kids were more of the heroes for the teacher and vice versa.

Watching the film pulled me in all sorts of directions that I never thought I would go. It was already surreal to see a film about a Teach For Malaysia fellow on a big screen let alone to see friends get together specifically to watch this film, and to relate so much to it was another out of body experience. Especially when I was a coach for the choral speaking team in 2015 with my TFM collab who went through the same absenteeism problem and helped 36 kids memorise an original (written by my collab) script word for word, syllable by syllable… and we also came out as 5th place after finally sending a team for years in school history!

Just watching it all unfold on screen made me question my reality. I remember how absorbed and almost obsessed I was with the things that happened in school. It made me think of that time I listed my name to continue teaching in school, but eventually revoked my name for rather personal reasons. It made me think of the things I wanted to do but never did. It made me remember how happy I could be all in a day’s work in my own ‘kampung’ school. It gave me a sinking feeling that forced me to reflect and made me remember the crucial extreme happy and sad moments in my teaching fellowship in Sarawak.

Of all the stories shared in the film, I am pretty sure it was only just a fragment of what the real Teacher Cheryl went through. The movie had a specific story to tell, and that condensed the drama and emotions into only a crack in the wall. Any TFM fellow would be able to relate someway or another. Suddenly, we feel warm strength slowly flowing back into our veins realising that we were once in schools fighting for the same cause in a way that was our own… or warm tears slowly flowing on our cheeks unable to contain the pain that happens in relation within the alternating scene cuts.

It makes you think if there was anything significant in your fellowship to be made into a movie or a book or an animation, what would it be? How would it look like? What are the values that you held throughout making the choices you made in classrooms; in school meetings; in meeting parents; in community visits? It makes you think of the challenges you went through and how remotely different things are in a completely different context now. It makes you feel like there are lots of parallels between one fellow’s life and another. It make you want to find the similarities and blur out the unimportant differences in any Malaysian school. Of all stories and opinions, it is always only the tip of the iceberg, and so is my response towards this film right now.

10.03.2017

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Answer without forgetting the question.

It has been two years away from home, and I have to come to the reasoning that no one will fully understand what I went through. I guess everyone who has been away from home will feel this one way or another, the alienation from being in another place put home into a space that feels different. Ultimately, coming home also feels like floating in a bubble of unfamiliarity. Suddenly, you start questioning yourself of where had the feeling of home gone to?

Of all the memories that I still hold with me is still dear and fresh in my memories that I simply cannot let go. Somehow, the feelings of certain exact moments still lingers. Even last night, after being home for more than a week now, I had dreams of longhouse communities and how connected people are within the huge Sarawak alone. I woke up today questioning myself if my heart is still subconsciously there and I came home on a false connotation of ‘finding home’ but without a heart for being back in peninsular Malaysia. I know that life is about moving on and going forward, but I guess some people choose not to have emotional attachments. I did not know how emotional attachments felt like. I think I know now.

Walking around with emotional strings are hard. I can never be completely in one place. Somedays I wish I knew how to cut off completely, but somedays I wish I never cut it all off. I still do think about how Hari Gawai finally made sense to me more than just a mere public holiday now. My mind still wanders about what are my students doing now in their humble abodes, be it in the school hostel or their resident homes in the city or the towns. I still ponder about why is the sky bluer in Sarawak? Was it because I was at a place closer to the sea water? Perhaps.

I wished I knew how to balance off my feelings and cherish the memories of being Cikgu Huda, because I never knew I could be her and I never felt more significant in my living hours when interacting with the real recipients of educational change. I hope there is a way to talk out loud about my experience. All the good sweet moments and also all the bad disappointing realities of our homeland is worth to be shared with the rest of the public, or even the generation of the future. I wonder if there is a way to tell everything in one book?

How should stories be laid out? How should I stir more experiences and pepper it with some optimism? I want to focus on the good things without forgetting the bad ones. I want to highlight the solution without forgetting the problem. I need to share my experience to ensure that the vicious cycle doesn’t repeat itself, InsyaAllah…

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A matter of taste

Why is it that I can never handle the taste of belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste), let alone the pungent smell of it when growing up… but as I am a quarter of a century old now, I crave the taste of belacan in my meals, especially with plain rice?

Why is it that I could spend hours (almost half the day, a staggering 12 hours!) on the computer, utilizing the internet as a university student… but now as I have left university for only 3 years, I can’t stand to sit across the bright computer screen for more than 2 hours?

Why is it that I used to love what the city can offer and all the noise and hustle bustle made by people… but now I feel like just spending more time with nature away from the city and really appreciate the company of a small group of people?

Why is it that I used to watch architecture related videos with awe and admire big buildings around made of glass and steel… but now I scoff at those superficial documentaries trying to paint a very skewered picture of what architecture is about and how architects lead their life. I also admire smaller inventions of nifty furniture and how natural vernacular houses are built and modified by their occupants.

Why is it that I used to be attracted to guys who have style and like to talk about their own interest… but now I feel more attracted to the reclusive and quiet guys who seem to know what they are doing even if they are not saying it…

Why is it that I used to be unfazed by facts and stories about history, culture and people… but now I jump at every small piece of verbal information I can get about folklore and how cultures are conserved, how tribes and families are shaped, what happened in the past and why do people still practice what they believe in today…

Why is it that I used to listen to media recommendations and what’s new and what’s hot… but now it all seems cold and I simply feel indifferent and distant to what is so happening about it all…

Is it all really simply a matter of taste?
Or are they part and parcel or even proof of growing up?
Are all these decisions simply being made by the current state of our subconscious mind or do they hold a bigger more significant purpose and meaning for our written future?

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Changing landscapes; Changing perspectives

I was immature of me to think that things would remain the same when coming back to my hometown in Kuala Lumpur. Infact, so much has changed at home and so much has changed for me as a person. Suddenly, a new MRT station popped up near my home, and I too began driving around to get to places around Miri. I tried adjusting to a new job and life in Miri, but that too has ended too soon. Two years flew by without me realising how much I have built a safety dome around myself, a world of introvertedness and an igloo of my own perspectives and point of views. Now it is time to step out of it. The real adventures for me has only just about to begin.

I have to come to terms that I was away in foreign land for the past two years. Two years was enough to make the unfamiliar into something more familiar to me, but it also turned the familiarity of the Klang Valley as unfamiliar. Immediately upon my flight back from the airport to my parents’ home in Selangor, I saw countless buildings that I couldn’t recognise. Seeing construction in Miri, Sarawak of smaller scaled dwellings like homes, kampung school buildings, community suraus and petrol station ; It was nothing like seeing massive complex structure borrowing below ground and erecting into a huge conceptual form. In Miri, it was fun seeing a construction from piling works to renovation of shop-houses taking place from the highway. Every time, I drove by, I’d see the colourful progress of some familiar basic constructions that I’ve learnt in architecture school. But, after witnessing elevators carrying concrete slabs and double storey cranes that looked like gigantic spiders tending to the skeletons of skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, I began to question my academic self. I do not recall learning about those alien looking innovations!

Yup, two years was really a long time. A long disorienting journey that took me to understand a new antique place filled with unknown historical depth and cultural mythologies…. but soon after all the painstaking process of upholding a career shift, I was brought back to the future where interacting with technologically enhanced machinery was a societal norm. In Kuala Lumpur, people crave for new things that are way faster, much easier and more trendy. Life of the locals in luar bandar Miri was all about surviving by means of self sufficient agriculture and farming. People were more interested about how to find a job, whether inside or outside in the oil palm plantations when school didn’t teach students about survival in the estate. Some even find it more worth it to quit school midway to find something to do to bring revenue to the household nestled within the various few villages around.

It would be hard to call Miri my home. Even after making plenty of friends and knowing the road junctions and places of interests, there is still something out of place. I did found a place that was close to home, similar to my own parents’ home where the food and language used brings back memories of my past. I am blessed to find a family that would host me throughout sharing meals, work stories and laughter. It is somewhere in Piasau, where I would rest after a tiring journey of travelling throughout Miri when running school errands- Thank you Aunty June and family for hosting me when I am in town every now and then –A student once questioned me when I mentioned to him that I have reached “home” when landing at the airport. Instead, he saw it that Miri was like a resting place for me, a transit hub in a shape of a big vessel or ship (he used the word kapal layar) before I continue my voyage elsewhere – Thank you Calbert for your big imagination and words of wisdom – Despite what other people was saying, having different opinions of the TFM teachers that were sent here, I saw my life in the quaint school beside the forest reserve, was all about finding balance between work and life; and also staying sane while inching upon insanity of being lonely. Often, I try finding the right time to sit with my thoughts and take action (whether forcing myself to sleep or do something creative) in between classes from the rise of the sun up til the shine of the moon.

As much as I try to look within and ask myself what did I gain from all I went through in two years, I forgot something. I forgot to take into account of the people whom I have left behind in KL. I merely jumped of a cliff, without looking back or harnessing myself to a safety rope. Without expecting anything, making it easier to be immersed into a new environment, it was also easier to get lost in it. Now, my friends and family in KL are trying to locate me and pull me back to reality. I seem to have floated too far off the rack, too distant from the eye and too high up amongst the clouds.

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Writing from the heart

It is funny how some days I really feel like writing and some days I just don’t feel anything at all. I wonder where this urge comes from? People tell me it comes at those times I am having a fit of acute introversion, where I have a dialogue with myself. And yes, when that gets interesting, I feel the urge to write, whatever it may become. It could also be that my creative juices flow because I have many things to say, and yet only a few will listen. Therefore, my brain tells me to write them down for the future to be reread by myself, or to be read by other deserving people who will find something useful with my writing.

Besides all those theories, I found out something new today about how the act of simply physically writing on paper helps me in being calm during anxious situations. It was the last day of school and I haven’t really prepared anything for my students that I would most likely not see again for a very long time. I had mental blocks and the rare case of being petrified of having so many things to do, the aftereffects of acknowledging that I will one day leave Sarawak for good. No wonder I was anxious! Even sleeping becomes something hard to do.

So, in school today, I was trying to get some photos printed on card paper, for my class and I thought of writing a message at the back of every card. Yes. EVERY card will have a message for the recipient. I felt at ease by writing… whether it is writing out my heart’s content or  simply repeating the awesome words from another card, I was feeling at ease.
In the end, I managed to get about 60 postcards done!

Perhaps, it is because I was writing from the heart, a place where all feelings and gut instincts are clear, and I simply let it go. Let it flow from my fingers to the keys on the key board. I might be happy, but I may not write happy things. I may be sad, but I may not write things that will make you cryyy….

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