Guest Article by Julie P. Meadows
Texas Tech University
It’s a heated volleyball match. The late afternoon sun is still blazing down on the court. The ball is served right to me, and just as I reach my arms out the player behind me shouts, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” So I take a step back and watch the ball hit the court right in front of me. I turn, confused, and look at my teammate (who also happens to be the team coach). He is returning my look of confusion. “What happened?” he laughs. “You said ‘mine,’” I respond. He looks confused again. Then something clicks, he begins laughing again, and I get one of the most memorable lessons in the Malay language. ‘Mine’ (spelled mainin Malay) actually means ‘play.’ He was telling me to play the ball.
From my first week as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Seri Payong Secondary School, in Bukit Payong, Terengganu, my Monday and Wednesday afternoons have been spent on our volleyball court. I remember being particularly impressed on my first day that the girls and boys were training together and teaching each other some of the skills. I decided that I wanted to keep coming back and invest some time in volleyball. It is during these hot afternoons that I have learned much from and gotten to know a small group of students.
I decided not long after arriving in Malaysia that a motorbike would be the ideal way to get around. The only thing between me and the road was, well, knowing how to ride one. Since many of the volleyball boys ride motorbikes to school, they were the first potential teachers to come to mind. The volleyball coach assisted my housemate and fellow Fulbright ETA, Marquita, and I in purchasing our motorbikes. That afternoon he sent a couple of students to pick them up from the shop and drive them to school where we could learn how to ride them within the safety of the school parking lot.
I remember one of the students, Zharif, pulling up to school on my motorbike unable to control his laughter as he pointed to my broken and dangling headlight. You see, I was talked into test driving the bike, but I only made it a few feet before I crashed into a lorry parked in front of the motorbike shop. The only thing I could say was, “I’ll buy this bike!” After the boys got their laughs over with they began teaching Marquita and I how to ride. They were patient and encouraging teachers steadying our bikes and running alongside us as we slowly maneuvered around the parking lot. We ended the day by having tea together at a restaurant beside the school. It was there that I learned their names. With almost 1000 students at SMK Seri Payong, I felt overwhelmed by trying to learn students’ names, but that day I knew that I wanted to remember the volleyball kids’ names.
Azwa, affectionately known as ‘Wawa,’ is a Form 4 (16 year old) student at SMK Seri Payong who was just one of the many girls at volleyball training who had no idea how to play volleyball and could not serve the ball over the net to save her life. The girls had a volleyball tournament my second week at school so I went to cheer for them and watch them get beat by teams with obviously much more experience. After that day the girls all stopped coming to practice. All except Wawa. Wawa kept coming and getting better. I still remember the first time she served the ball over the net. All the boys cheered, and Wawa’s confidence soared. She is turning into quite the volleyball player.
Wawa is a particularly special student to me. Not only are we warm-up partners at volleyball training, we are also neighbors. Monday and Wednesday afternoons she knocks on my door and asks if I am coming to volleyball. If one of us is reluctant, the other will usually persuade them to go. Wawa has also taught me the art of just walking around the neighborhood in the evening, or jalan-jalanin Malay. These walks are the times when the conversation can move beyond small talk and on to more meaningful, or sometimes hilarious, discussions. Jalan-jalan has become another important word in my Malay vocabulary.
|ETA Julie Meadows with students|
When I first told the volleyball coach I would join them for practice, I never imagined how much a part of my Malaysian life volleyball would become or how much I would learn. Monday and Wednesday afternoons have become times of good, clean bilingual trash talking and cultural exchange sprinkled with a great deal of laughter. I have enjoyed watching the students improve as a volleyball team while their anxiety to speak English with me is gradually shrinking. These students have become my allies at school and, as in Wawa’s case, my neighborhood. All the students at SMK Seri Payong bring a smile to my face, but there is something extra special about seeing this group of students around school and in their classes. After several weeks of not holding volleyball practice we started up again this week. I hear there are some matches coming up. Jom main!