Thursday, May 22, 2008

May 22, 2008

Shortly after our last blog entry, strange, fascinating and positive things began to happen within our Makassar experience. People came out of the woodwork to support and defend us. Friendly faces appeared all around – in coffee shops, grocery stores and our regular haunts. It is clear that removing ourselves from the negative expat culture we had been in for 9 months was one of the healthiest and most refreshing decisions we have made this year. (Yes, the decision was made for me, but Peter has no regrets that he walked out in protest. :) )

Late last week, I went to the gym for my daily workout. (I spend 5 mornings a week at a fitness center located in the basement of the only 5-star hotel in Makassar. It’s my sanity check.) Apparently they were in the process of auditioning for a new aerobics instructor. The hotel’s general manager, his wife, the fitness center manager and a couple of other regulars had appeared in the center and “aerobics-style” music had begun to play. I continued on the Stairmaster while watching what was sure to be an amusing class. One of the guys from the fitness center counter took his place at the front of the room and began to move – not really finding any beat to speak of but moving nonetheless. After 10 minutes, he looked around and stopped – he was stuck.

I jumped in… I just couldn’t help myself. After teaching the remainder of the class, I had acquired quite a crowd. The general manager and the fitness center manager were wondering why they hadn’t hired me earlier and other students were commenting on how much they enjoyed the class. These were some of the first positive comments I had heard in a while. As it is, I am now teaching aerobics classes 4 times a week while training a new instructor to take over in early June when I leave Makassar. (Due to visa constraints, I am being paid in food vouchers – the irony is terribly funny.)

Fitness is my first love – after teaching my first class, I came home happier than I had been in a long time. In the midst of such a strange place and in the middle of a stressful and difficult situation, the opportunity arose to do the thing I love most – teach others how to make healthy choices. It has been such fun. Each day, the fitness center guy teaches a little more and I teach a little less. It’s like a month-long fitness teaching bootcamp where your trainee doesn’t speak any English and hasn’t ever taken an aerobics class before much less has any idea of how to teach one.

Indeed, Makassar has been a weird place. Yet, when we leave in just a few short weeks, we will remember some very good times as well as the difficult and strange ones. There will always be the day I was threatened with deportation and invited to teach an Indonesian aerobics class -- May 8th will be remembered as one of the strangest days of my life.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

May 8, 2008

An adventure. This doesn’t even come close to describing our time in Makassar, Indonesia. There have been times when we’ve seen some beautiful beaches and sunsets and waterfalls. There have also been times when we’ve been exposed to the most astounding and unbelievable human interactions – both positive and negative. Our blogging intent has been to realistically portray our experience living in southeastern Indonesia. This week has been no exception.

This site has included stories of teacher walkouts and unreliable electricity. We’ve included stories of ceilings that have collapsed as well as inconsistent pay schedules. Our “colleagues” have been described and their characters painted in such a way as to give a glimpse of our daily work environment.

Over the last month, Peter and I have moved forward with plans to accept teaching positions in Poland and begin a masters of education program involving intensive weeks of study in Krakow.

These circumstances as well as the appalling teaching environment led us to decide to buyout of our contract at the end of May. The buyout was provided for within our contract. We gave our notice in late April and endured a week of the silent treatment.

Monday, I was fired. I was told I was the worst teacher that had ever taught at EF English First Makassar. Yes, apparently I was worse than the alcoholics and the teachers who arrived hungover or with alcohol on their breath. I was informed that by leaving and never coming back I was doing the school a favor. I left.

Peter ventured into the office of the Director of Studies, Simon Still, moments later and asked what had happened. He was told that the director didn’t like me and that I hadn’t said “hello” or “goodbye” to him during the course of the year. Apparently this is cause for dismissal. When Peter suggested the director take responsibility for the ongoing communication within the school as well as the daily work environment, Simon informed him that he did not want to take responsibility and wasn’t going to. When told he was the worst manager Peter had ever had, Simon replied, with a shrug, that’s fine with him… he was ok with that. Peter left.

Between the 2 of us, we carried a teaching load of 15 classes. The average teacher at the school had 5 classes. Yes, for being the worst teacher at the school, I was teaching twice as many classes as the head teacher – 8 to his 4. I performed evaluations and placement screenings and was considered the “young learners” expert. Not bad for being the worst teacher ever. Hmmm…

Now, as one can imagine, this is a bit of a strange and stunning experience. I am unsure if we are still in shock or if we just don’t care anymore. But we feel strangely at ease. As we wandered Makassar today walking from one favorite place to another we realized that it’s not Indonesia that has been difficult – it is EF English First Makassar.

Indonesia is full of strange and fascinating people with a complex and unique heritage. Their religious, geographic and political situations are unlike anything known in the west. These systems are difficult to comprehend. Yet, it was our western connections that made them unbearable. It was the people from the west who made our lives frustrating and difficult.

For the first time in over 8 months, I took a full breath and realized that it was not Indonesia that made me feel insecure and disrespected – it was EF English First Makassar and it’s Director of Studies, Simon J. Still, BA (as his business card desires you to note). Had he even a bit of respect for the teachers he hired, had he tried just a bit to facilitate the teacher transition into this environment, our experience would have been very different.

And so, we are looking forward to our remaining month in Indonesia with the expectation that we will come away from the experience with much more positive energy now that we have severed our ties with the western institution housing the distracting and negative individuals who have tried to color our experience with their insecurities and disillusionments. We can begin to appreciate the true nature of the culture… We’ll let you know how it goes. ☺