WAR AND PEACE
A typical Tuesday begins at 12:30 PM for me; however, I chose to come in early on Tuesday to make photostats for my students.
The morning teachers were already done for the day, so I was the only teacher in the office. Three boys from a Form 5* class entered the room. I smiled and offered my favorite chocolates available in Malaysia, Cloud 9 double chocolate chews. The students’
responded with a simple question, “Is it halal?”
What happened next caught me completely off-guard and is, perhaps, the most startling experience in Malaysia to date. As one student scoured the label for a halal symbol, another boy walked over to the door and locked it.
“Strange,” I thought.
“Teacher,” he says, “tell me what you think about my religion?” I opened my mouth to answer his question but he continued to speak, “Do you think all Muslims are terrorists? What do you think about Islamophobia? Why do Americans kill so many Muslims?”
He’s aware of the 9/11 attacks and that I’m from New York. I know what he wants to hear. I know what he’s really asking. He wants to know if I think he’s a bad person. He’s really asking if I can respect him –his faith, his culture.
I told him war is a horrible and complicated thing and that there are good people and there are bad people all over the world and in every religion. I explained that if I was afraid of Muslims, I wouldn’t have come to a predominantly Muslim nation, Malaysia.
Then, I asked what he thinks of Christians and the United States of America. His response?
Sorry, I don’t know English.”
He and his friends grabbed a handful of my chocolate sweets, unlocked the door and walked outside to the bus station.
That experience made me believe this is what I’m here for. Yes, I’m here to encourage students to use English; help them to come out of their boxes and not be as shy. More importantly, I’m here to facilitate cultural exchange and to promote mutual understanding.
*Form 5 is Junior/Senior year of high school. Students are between 17-18 years old.