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Saturday, April 14, 2012

National Exams

In Indonesia very year during the month of April there are National Exams for class 12. Every Senior must pass these tests to graduate from a nationally accredited High School. My Madrassah is a religious school that also follows the national standards.

The pressure for students to pass these tests is intense. Last year, one student from my school did not pass. She only got 10% on the Mathematics part of the exam. I was told that this would affect her for the rest of her life. It would influence who she could marry. Her family would be ashamed of her. Two teachers went from my school to deliver the news to her family.

A month ago we had a community wide “Pray Day” to ask for Allah’s blessing on the students. About 1000 parents, grandparents and community members attended. We have a little less than 300 Grade 12 students.

For the past few months we have had 15-20 days of practice tests. (Sometimes we practice for a few hours, sometimes we practice for the entire day.) During these times, the other students do not go to class because their classrooms are being used for the “Try Out Exam.” That’s what it’s called. The grade 12 students sit only 1 student to a desk, rather than the usual 2 and every student has an assigned seat in a specific classroom. Different copies of the test are distributed so that no two students sitting next to each other get the same test.

Next week is the actual National Exam. Teachers from my school will go to a different Madrassah and they in turn will send their teachers here so that the exam proctors do not know the students that they are supervising. The purpose is to discourage cheating.

Yesterday we had a school wide prayer service in the mosque to ask Allah for his blessings on our students. Once again we had no teaching sessions. It was an emotional event. At the end of the prayers, all the female teachers stood in a row outside the mosque and every female Grade 12 student came and bowed and took our hand and pressed it to their face. Many of them had tears in their eyes. The boys gave the official greeting of respect to the male teachers. When the Grade 12 students were finished with the teachers, they then went to every other female student in the school. And every female student greeted every female teacher.

My co-teacher explained that is a difficult emotional time for students because they may not see each other again. (Well, we will have a graduation ceremony but at that event the Grade 12 students are dressed in formal lace tops and long printed skirts and have a lot of make up on their faces and last year they didn’t cry.) The crying surprises me. When I attended a funeral of a student who was killed on a motorcycle there were no tears. I was told that it was not proper to express emotion that way, that the Holy Qu’ran specifies moderation.

So next week there is no reason to go to school. There will be no classes and no teachers from my school in the teacher room. I’ll spend one night with Peace Corps friends on a rafting trip and another night in Jakarta attending a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer party sponsored by the Americans who did their Peace Corps service many years ago and are now living in Indonesia. I’m looking forward to seeing how “regular Americans” live. I think of this as a part of my re-integration process.

May 20th I will leave my village and go to the Peace Corps office and begin the 3 day Close of Service program when I turn in a massive amount of reports, materials that I’ve borrowed, make sure I’m medically okay and then on May 24th I’ll head back to the States.

My plan is to live for 3 months in Salt Lake City, with my daughter, her husband and 2 grandkids that I have missed so much. And then move to Las Cruces, New Mexico with my son and his wife and my new grandchild who is now 1 year old. I’ll live with them for a year or more.

And then… no plan.

I want to write about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown and who and what I’ll miss and the experiences that have shaped this new person who grew out of who I was but I find myself getting teary eyed and the sweat is dripping down my neck and there is thunder outside. It’s going to rain and this is the time that the little ants that I normally can’t feel anymore start to bite and I need to turn off the computer to keep it from getting zapped in the storm. I’ll write more another day.

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