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Travel, Culture, Expat Life

When you find yourself at a bridge…walk across! 

Rehana Yusof Rawat

I came to Brunei wanting a new experience and at the top of my list was smaller classes. The day of my deployment briefing arrived at the tail end of my induction programme. I had already visited my mentor teacher one morning at her school and to further get some perspective about what teaching is like in Brunei, I spent a second morning at a different school to observe a lesson. I toured both schools and I remember finding them warm, inviting and well cared for despite their age. Both had huge green sports fields and playground areas for learners. At this point, I thought that I had a fairly good idea of what to expect from a school in Brunei.

So, when I was called in for my deployment briefing and told my school was in the water village, locally known as Kampong Ayer, I was very surprised and even more sceptical.

Kampong Ayer has the tourist title as the ‘Venice of the East’ and I had read that the famous Brunei budget meal of Nasi Katok had originated from this community, getting its name from the process of knocking on a house door for your portion. A visit to Kampong Ayer was most certainly on my list of tourist things to do in Brunei as I was keen to see this fascinating Water village, with full-fledged homes on stilts standing above the Brunei river, a little village that even has mosques, police stations, fire stations and schools.

Yet, somehow, it had never occurred to me that I could be called upon to teach in one of those schools. The idea of taking a boat to school, quite honestly, scared me. I was very worried but decided to embrace this new adventure as the managers went out of their way to reassure me, answer my questions and share their own water village experiences. Luckily for me, the day before I visited my new school I got the happy news that the school info sheet was not updated as yet and so I didn’t need to take a boat – there was a brand new bridge that crossed over the breadth of the Brunei river and landed right at the doorstep of my school. Oh, what glorious news! Now that the part I was most concerned about was out of the way, I was very excited to begin this new chapter and start at my new school.

So, on the first visit to the school I happily found my way across the big, beautiful bridge that took me directly to a carpark next to the school, only to arrive and find the smallest, most rickety wooden bridge in front of me. It was the part leading to the school entrance, connecting the carpark to the school and to the wooden boardwalks that connect all through Kampong Ayer. This bridge looked like it could fall apart, surely this wasn’t going to get me across to the school. I imagined myself falling in, a hearty breakfast for the river’s famous crocodiles! I hesitated a few moments and then I nervously took slow and tentative steps, carefully placing one foot in front of the other.  The boards under me creaked and I could see the water underneath, slowly ebbing to and fro.

I made it across this bridge despite my over beating heart and spent a wonderful morning at my new school. Once inside, you can almost forget that you are standing in a huge building that is practically perched over a river. You forget, but only until you hear a boat zooming past, cutting through the water, leaving a spray of white foam behind it. The other momentary distraction is the beautiful view around you:  you can’t help but notice how the sunlight twinkles off the water, the birds sitting on the sandy banks and the wooden homes standing on their stilts nearby.

By the end of the day, I had forgotten my morning’s fears until it was time to exit the school and as I stopped to prepare myself for the walk across this rickety bridge, a group of young learners came racing by, talking and laughing and teasing each other as they zipped along the bridge towards the wooden walkways that would take them home. They raced on these paths, meters above water, with no hesitation, no fear, no worry, having complete faith and trust that this bridge would do what it was meant to do – support them and hold them up as they crossed.

And as I carefully began my walk across to the carpark, I got to the end and glanced back at my new school. I decided to make that same commitment:  I, too, will do what I am meant to do – support and help my students across their English learning journey, stepping into this new experience with complete faith and trust.

Nowadays, I walk this bridge without looking down, at a normal pace and with complete faith.  For me, this is the perfect reflection of my beginning here in Brunei.   I am beginning with a little bit of trust and faith, being open to something different and taking those first few steps into a new and beautiful world that has opened up before me, giving me exactly the adventure I was looking for!

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