The Space Between Us

You know you’re really curious with a book if every time you visited a bookstore you keep holding and and staring at its cover but then decided not to buy it. Then you visited the bookstore again and you did the same thing again. Either I spend too much time in a bookstore or I’m just broke and need to spend wisely my book allowance (both, I think). Anyway, I keep doing that again and again to ‘The Space Between Us’, there’s something about the book that makes me want to sit and read it page by page. So when finally it was on sale I bought it and just like what I’d thought, I enjoyed reading this book so much I finished it in two days (the last few chapters I read it at night in a car on the way to Bandung to Central Java – I made the driver to turn on the light inside the car)

The ‘us’ in the story are Bhima, a servant in an Indian family and Sera, her mistress. Both are middle aged women (though Sera few years younger than Bhima) and Sera had considered Bhima as her family – in fact, her neighbors had often said that she treated Bhima way too nice and someday Bhima would sit in Sera’s head! But Sera – lived her own unhappy life had known some moments when there was no other people , not even her mother, who understands her as Bhima did. Because Bhima, being a faithful servant had seen things others couldn’t have seen.

Bhima, now a grandmother, lived series of unfortunate events since she had lost her husband and her son. She became bitter and angry, but she remained honest and discipline about her works. Her loyalty to Sera sometimes amazed her granddaughter, Maya. Maya thought that Bhima would put Sera’s family first before her own.  Bhima lived in a slum area in Mumbai and being fortunate enough to had visited the city  a year ago, I had no difficulty in imagining the scenes, the crowded market, the busy and loud people on the street, street vendors – chapatti and the beach close to The Gate of India at night.

The story began with how angry Bhima was, realizing that Maya her precious granddaughter was pregnant. Maya was a smart girl and had been given scholarship by Sera to continue her study in a good college, and Maya also was a nice and polite girl. This incident shocked both of the family, especially when Maya wouldn’t reveal who was the father of her unborn child. Bhima hated Maya so much for her recklessness, she of all people, knew what it meant to live without education, so she hoped so much that Maya wouldn’t have to suffer life she had lived. But then, her dream was shattered with the news and she was worried sick of what future might hold for Maya.

In Sera’s house, her daughter Dinaz, few years older than Maya was also with a baby. But different with Bhima’s life, everything in Sera’s life seemed to go well. Dinaz had a nice husband, worked in a good company, and naturally was a really nice girl whom Bhima raised. Despite her loyalty to the family, she couldn’t help to feel envious of Sera’s life. She hated herself when the thoughts crept in her mind and kept reminding herself how much Sera had help her through her ordeals.

Sera, a widower was felt a deep compassion to Bhima, Bhima was the only one who knew how bad her late husband had hit her, who massaged her bruises with ointment, and who raised Dinaz like her own. But she didn’t understand why she let Bhima sat on the floor when they had their morning teas, why she kept separating their utensils and why she didn’t want to touch Bhima as if the slum where Bhima lived was with her in her skin, although she knew Bhima was the cleanest person she had known.

The twist in the story was pretty easy to guess, but I didn’t mind. There was something more enchanting in the way Thrity Umrigar told the story of two women’s life in an old and cruel yet beautiful city called Bombay.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar


What is freedom for women?

Sitting in a quiet restaurant was a Spanish girl, looking restless and sometimes between her words that kept coming out from her lips, she smiled. But her eyes were restless, she was telling me a story about how the idea of love is killing people, killing women. She studied gender and she knew a lot about women in third world countries, where men rule and women obey. Where men lead and women follow, and worlds where men get more and women get what are given to them.

She’s European and I’m Asian, but borders and oceans that separate us prove that being a woman is pretty much the same. She did some research about how myths’ of love destroy women. They believe – or want to believe – that the idea of love is real. The origin of marriage happens when people realize that in order to expand the family businesses, they need to merge with other families by legal bonding, thus marriage was created. Not for love, but money and power. But as civilization changes, people want to have a better idea of a marriage, love becomes one sole reason in modern world to wed.

Now the world is changing again, women feel that they also contribute in how the world works and they realize they can make big things happen, important changes and moreover, they realize that they are a person capable of living their own chosen way of live without help of men. Feminism to the extreme level happen and though this baffled men in many ways (plus, I think men never take women seriously) the old myth that said woman was created from man’s ribs and solely to company Adam who was lonely, in other way to say that women exist to complete men always rings awfully true.

There are many ways to look on women’s role in society and it really depends on how we look at it. Some women’s opinion differ from other women, some even criticize they way other women think. But try hard as we women may, we would be lying to ourselves if we declare that we need no men. Men can live without women, but women -psychologically speaking- find it hard to live without men. There are, of course, many young women who chose to live all by themselves and provide themselves, some even raise children by themselves and declare bravely that they’ll be a mother and also a father for their children. (This case not applied to widowers of course)

These new type of women think marriage is a terrible idea and they don’t see any reason why – if they’re with a partner – should government meddle with it. Being married – if it’s by love – should not need certification or legalization by government. Why should I prove it with paper and seal that I love this man I am with? Some argue that government protects mothers’ rights to their children in case of divorce and inter-citizen marriage. (Which I agree with)

But the idea of freedom for women still lingers without no one has a real grasp of what it means. Being a woman is a hundred different things, being a wife and a mother is another hundreds different thing.

The Spanish girl sipping her drink, realized she had talked too much and apologized. I told her to keep talking because she interests me. She told me that lots of her European friends think that Western women are freer than Asian women or Muslims because in Europe they don’t have to cover their skins and free to wear clothes as they like. She was angry and said that her friend is stupid, “do you think by showing skins means that you are free? Do you think by wearing sexy clothes you are freer than women who wear jilbab? Yet you told me that your parents demand you to get married! How free you are!!”

Now define freedom for women,

If it’s not by the choice of clothes,

or by freedom in living a life,

or by saying what they meant without being judged,

or by feeling proud that they make money,

or by the choice that you married by love not an arranged one,

or by getting equal education, opportunity, and salary with men,

then what?

I think this moment, me sipped tea in small restaurant feeling a weird connection with this girl, was some kind of freedom.

The rain started falling and everything turned grey. There are many questions left unanswered and maybe the urge of women around the world to answer this with their own way is freedom in its own weird form.



Moment of doubt

I stared numbly at the faces of my students. I could tell that their minds were not on the worksheet I had just handed them three minutes ago.

There were six of them, all boys and even though I only had them on Fridays, the sixty minute lesson felt like infinity. I remembered two years ago when I had just started teaching them, they were obnoxious and loud -they are still, now- but they were kids, now they are teenagers. In other words, they’re completely different species.

“I hate you, you know.” one of them said to me when I told him to stop texting.

He was waiting for my reaction so I said, “I don’t really care”. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. I told myself, he didn’t mean it, but I knew he did. He was always the most difficult in this class and many times I had wished he just quit and stop coming. And every time I felt guilt for wishing such things.

The class ended and I felt relieved. Children never told you that they hate you, they don’t understand the concept of hate and they put things into two categories: like and dislike, in which the components in each group exchanging in seconds. It was easier to please a child, sing with them, dance with them, play with them, joke with them and if you feel too tired to do each of those, buy them chocolates.

With adults it’s easier in different ways. You can make sense with them, they can make sense with you. They can see things through different layers and most healthy-minded  adults filter things that they’ve received. They can easily see advantage or disadvantages of everyday behavior (though what the actions they do with that knowledge depends on each individual).

But with teens..they can make you hate yourself for disliking their behavior. Since I’ve started this job, I’ve been reading a lot of methodology books about teaching and a lot about handling teenagers and also been reading teachers’ blogs and forums that share other teachers experience about handling difficult students.

But none of those prepare you for these:

student : miss, do you want to see video of me kissing my girlfriend?

me : err.., no thanks?

or this,

me : okay, now open page..

student : why should I?  (with sour look in his eyes – as if I was someone that the presence is so revolting he wanted to puke)

and this :

me: don’t play with your pho..

student : I hear you, God damned it!!

me : … (stunned)


me : okay, guess how do I feel at the moment (it was a lesson about feelings)

student : fucked?

me : frustrated (I mean it)


Rob told me that they acted that way because they are used to me. And I thought, should I change the way I am to disciplined them. How? I don’t think that I have different faces or masks every time I step inside a class. I’m just being me.

One day, I was having a bad day at the class. One of the boys acted unbelievably rude and I tried to reason with him. After the class had finished, and there were only two of us walking down the corridor, I asked him: “Why were you so angry?”

It took him moments before he answered, then without looking at me, he said “I think I’m going to be like my father. He lied all the time. That’s why my mother left him.”

I didn’t see this coming.

All I could say was, “you are you, not your father.”

He shrugged and ran to catch his friends.

Did it make me feel any better knowing he had a valid reason he didn’t even realized to act the way he just did? Maybe. Did it make my teaching hours easier? I doubt it.

But I felt something pushed me to take another step. No solid promise that it’s going to be easier, no certificates that says I passed a teaching course to certify that I can do this. And many moments I doubt myself. My adult student once asked me why I chose this line of career instead of designing. I didn’t know why, I wanted to say that there was something in teaching that you don’t get in other line of job but it sounded so cheesy.

But sometimes, it’s not about teaching which tenses you should use, sometimes it’s about learning to be more human.

I was once had a discussion in a teenager class: robot teacher or human teacher. To my relieved they chose to have human teacher compared to an android. The reason? They said robot teacher couldn’t laugh with them.

How I Became Friends With Jodie

When: Last November, during CELTA training at lunch break.

Where: Dunkin Donuts, 3 minutes walk from the center.

My mood: leave me alone

Who: Jodie an Aussie girl who was one of the participants in my group. We were the only girls in the group.

I had been told by my seniors at the office before I started my CELTA: make friends with people in your group, they’re the one who’s gonna help you through your course. Naturally I’m the kind of person who’s easy to be friends with people. I can be friends with most of the people I’ve met and I think that’s because I really like people in general. Everybody must have their own stories and it’s really fascinating to see things from their point of view.

But that day, I wasn’t in the mood to put up with any type of personalities. I’d been having a rough week -mostly related to me feeling inferior in CELTA environment- I decided to have a quiet lunch at Dunkin Donuts, knowing most of the participants usually had lunch at the center’s canteen. But from outside the restaurant I was annoyed to see Jodie sitting on a booth all by herself, but I didn’t want to go back to the center. So I stepped inside and hoped she didn’t see me. I walked straight to the counter and was relieved to see an empty booth far from hers.

I put my earphone and was about to enjoy my tuna sandwich and coffee when.. ‘Hi! I thought it was you!’ Damn.

Being a nice Asian, I invited her to join me. And then we chatted. She told me her bizarre encounter with a stranger in Bali. I told her about my bizarre relationship.

Little did I know that time that the conversation never really ends until this moment. (We talk via emails and facebook, now she’s in London living her dream).

A few weeks before the course ended and we would be separated without knowing when and where we’ll have coffee and talk face to face again, she told me about the day she had said hi to me at Dunkin Donuts.

Jodie: “I know you wanted to be left alone, exactly the reason I said hi’

Me : ‘You said hi to a person that you knew was not in the mood to talk?’ I asked her in disbelieve

Jodie: ‘Usually no, but that kind of person interest me. I like to push their button. Anyway, I was surprised that you invited me to join you.’

Me: ‘Well, I kinda have to, you came up and said hi. It would’ve been rude to not invite you’

Jodie: ‘Really? If I were you, I wouldn’t invite myself.’

Me: ‘If I were you, I’d stick to my doughnut and leave the annoyed girl alone.’

But I’m glad she did it. We shared so much in those four hellish weeks. On the last day of the course, she gave me a Christmas edition tumbler from Starbuck’s (I had one but it was broken and I was soooo sad that she gave me another one – exactly the same- bless you Jodie Anne Jackson)