The Bird

There is a decided lack of central air in Malaysia, minus the malls (set to a balmy 18c), and using the one in our home means a decided commitment to paying an electricity bill double what a fan would use. So, fans and several showers a day it is.

There’s a unit in the teachers room, and a family of birds is nesting in it. It’s a clunky old thing, covered in bird poop and rust and impossible to tell when it’s on thanks to the 13 fans and open doors so characteristic of Malaysian schools.

The birds sing and fly freely, perching on the backs of unused chairs and old, ungraded practice books from last year’s form 5 students (Oh! the teachers say. I never graded those!) For some reason, the birds annoy me the most of anything I’ve encountered as an un-certified, under-qualified English teacher in the Malaysian school system.

There’s a lot of potential irritants here. The motosikals weaving in and out of traffic, cutting off cars and lorries 10x their weight. Teachers abandoning me in classrooms I have no business being in by myself (Oh! But you’re a native speaker! Please.) The lack of vegetables (and no, 3 cabbage leaves in a noodle dish doesn’t count. Never have I been more tempted to a life of raw veganhood.) The way the backs of your legs slide off the plastic bus seats, covered with a thin film of sweat and dirt from which no cold shower can save you. (Did I ever tell you about the time I slid off a moped seat while wearing shorts because I was so slippery? )

No, for some reason it’s the birds that irritate me the most. They flit and flutter, flying past my head as I struggle to come up with a lesson plan for kids who desperately want to talk and simultaneously are too shy to do it. How do you engage kids who have been streamed by their teachers, told they’re just not worth the same effort has the higher level kids?  None of the other teachers seem to notice the birds. On days like to day, when it’s rainy and cold outside, I wonder if I’m not just a bird to the school. I can pretend to be building a nest, teaching grammar and ‘American-ness’ and how to introduce yourself, but at the end of the year is the cleaning staff just going to wipe me off the unit, forgotten by the other teachers?

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