School days, school days, dear old golden rule days
Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – It had been about 25 years since I went through the process of the beginning of school for one of my own.
Mary, now 32, has a brilliant career in ranching and raising two fine children. I can remember going to the malls and purchasing outfits for her to wear for first grade. When the yellow school bus drove for her neighborhood school in Salisbury, Maryland, tears flowed down my cheeks. It took a week for me to get over it. Mary was fine, I was the problem.
Fast forward to today. Here in Sarawak on Borneo Island, things are different. The first thing we had to do was select a school. Here, you can attend any Primary (Elementary) School you want. The kampong family wanted him to attend St. Thomas. This was a traditional Catholic school that taught Chinese students for well over 100 years. It was integrated by the government and was forced to take Malay pupils as well. Because of its past reputation, there are 30-40 students to a class. I said “no” to that one.
I was looking at another school just across the river. I could see the classrooms, hear the singing and thought that would be a good one. Dzul would have to take a sampan across the river and back each day.
We visited the institution and the admissions officer said we would have to go to the Board of Education (BOE) to get permission because I was a westerner. Never mind Suriani (my wife) was a Malay. We arrived at the BOE and was shuttled around until we found the right person, and she thought us crazy. All we had to do was register.
I started getting reports from my wife about travel on the sampan during the monsoon season. She made it sound like a raging torrent of water and poor Dzul would be swept away and eaten by the crocs that now inhabit this river.
I have watched the river for about seven years now and never seen a torrent as she described. Then the truth came out; she had found another school for Dzul to attend.
The new school was a Chinese school that was also forced to accept Malay students during the integration. The primary one class had only 14 students, and she was sold on it. It was only about a mile from home and she could take Dzul on a bus or walk. No crocs. I said “yes,” as if I had any choice in the matter.
The next jobs was to find school uniforms. Here, everybody wears one, navy blue pants, belt, white shirt, singlet, white shoes and socks. The problem was the pants. Dzul took a size 18, the very smallest they made. The trouble was, the vendors only ordered one or two pairs and they sold out quickly. We had to go to a size 20 and have Suriani’s sister, who lives in the kampong, adjust the pants. We must have cut off and discarded half the belt. We ended up with seven complete school uniforms with two pairs of white shoes, another hassle because we had to find ever-so-small ones.
The school starts at 7 A.M., which means Suriani has to arise at 5. She fixes his snack, wakes up Dzul, throws him in the shower, gets him dressed, fixes him a bowl of cereal with toast (my contribution to the household) and, at 6:30, they are out the door.
She arrives at a few minutes before seven and then goes to her friend Sitis's for breakfast. She returns to the school at 10 to feed Dzul his snack and then goes back to Siti's or elsewhere until 1 p.m. Then they return home.
....to be continued
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...Life is good. . . . .