Teach. Travel. Immerse. Indulge.

A Tribute to Ridwan

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My mentor, Umi, has been such a blessing in my life since coming to Sarawak. What Umi lacks in height, she makes up for with her vibrant and very accepting personality. She has been an English teacher at SMK Semerah Padi for years, is the head of the English Language Panel, organizes district-wide debates and English competitions for her students, brings me a delicious breakfast of deep-fried donuts and curry puffs every single morning, and raises eight children between the ages of 3 and 23. Yes, eight. It took me about two weeks to remember all of their names, and about four weeks to even realize that I hadn’t even met all of them yet. I thought I did… there were just too many new faces to keep track of. Long story short, Umi is amazing. She is steadfast in her Islamic beliefs, but doesn’t let that stop her from being liberal, accepting, spunky, and incredibly generous. She is the type of woman/teacher/mentor that is not afraid to completely sass her students for not following directions, always wants to be in the front of every picture that has ever been taken in her general vicinity, makes her students pay her money for speaking Bahasa Melayu in English class (don’t worry, these generous funds will be put towards a sweet surprise for them), and interrupts my classes just to give me a hug. Not surprising, her maternal gene is on point. Umi has raised beautiful children, several of which I have had the opportunity to become very close with. I love them all so much, but seem to have a deeper connection with one in particular….


Allow me to introduce Ridwan, a special child who needs no introduction:


Ah, Ridwan. Where to begin? At just 9 years old, Ridwan speaks better English than many of my 15 year old secondary school students. You may not be able to tell from the picture, but Ridwan is extremely intelligent, and he LOVES science. For the entire month of February   (before I had a car/knew how to drive manual/could trust myself to only drive on the left side of the road), I spent everyday after school traveling with Umi to pick up Ridwan and his sister from school, then back to their house for lunch. Ridwan and I talked every single day about what he learned in school, specifically in science class. He loves to talk about monkeys, dugongs, and the Aldabra Giant Tortoise. He asks me questions about soil, which for a while was the word he used when he was really talking about skin. In their backyard, we would go grasshopper hunting while he told me about his plans to travel to the United States one day so he could see a manatee. I think his plans might be on hold for the time being, however, because he is “afraid of getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle”. His curiosity never ceases to amaze me. As soon as he jumped in the car at school, he would show me pictures of what he learned about in class, and asked questions that continued our conversation from the day before.



Ridwan is a breath of fresh air for me. Sometimes, he is also a breath of seriously rank air when he doesn’t warn us about farting in the car with the windows up. I forgot to mention: Ridwan is hilarious and super weird.

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Once again, I’m feeling blessed and so fortunate to be where I am today. I love my school, I love my mentor, and I love the people I am able to surround myself with everyday.


I will leave you with this video, which I think is well worth more than 1,000 words.



One thought on “A Tribute to Ridwan

  1. Hands down, Umi is simply amazing! How wonderful for you to have such caring, expressive strong women in your life in Malaysia, Emily! Ridwan is a cutie, and I am impressed with how respectful the school children are. You are touching his young life, and the connection you have with him is probably fostered by your own passion with the living sea. I haven’t been able to open the video even with a download, and hopefully one of the computers here will allow for that. Keep up the wonderful work, Em!

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