I am not really interested in politics but when the time comes to vote, I will fulfill my duty as a good Malaysian citizen. I may project a very liberal and casual attitude towards politics but I have a very firm and solid mindset when it comes to choosing which political party I want to rule the country. (Don't we all?) That is about all the involvement that I get myself into as far as politics is concerned. However, I have this desire to relate how politics affect the overall scenario in schools during my time as a teacher.
Throughout my 33 years of service, I had taught in only 6 schools but I think it is quite safe for me to generalise the atmosphere in most schools, pertaining to politics. The first half of my career was free from any form of serious political antagonism among colleagues. We were able to talk and joke freely and loudly about any political figures or political fiascoes. There was no neccessity to choose whom to share our opinions regarding political issues. We were never actively involved in politics but we loved to talk about the current political events of the time. Everything and everybody was safe and sound.
However, the second half of my career took a turn for the worse. About 90% of the school population was on the "other side" - both teachers and pupils! Yes, even students were very vocal, condemning the other party outrightly with intense hatred in their eyes. On one occasion, there was this boy who got overly emotional and started to mimic his parents extreme dislike with such gusto that I had to "intervene" - and intervene I did, my way, of course!! I was horrified, petrified at his sudden outburst of anger that all the calmness, patience, tolerance and impartiality expected of a teacher dissipated into thin air. It was too much for me to swallow. I retaliated back in full force, my sense of judgement gone awry! Hey, I am human, too. Here was one cheeky 15 year-old who could barely add or subtract simple arithmetic getting all worked up over the nation's political crisis. It was unbelievably scary, to say the least.
When the nation was thrown into a political chaos in the late 90's , it was not easy to tell friends from foes. We were briefed ever so often to be loyal to the "government of the day", but as soon as the briefing was over, you could hear sarcasms and insinuations hurled out loud for the benefit of the other faction. This cold war went on for quite some time. I had a friend, a very close friend, who called me up to inform me of her political standing. She coaxed me into telling her which side I was on. That was the last time I heard from her.
There was another humurous incident worth mentioning. I was quite close to this colleague, but he was on the other side. Nevertheless, he would give me durians, rambutans and dokongs from his dusun during the fruit season. Over time, we learnt to respect each others political inclinations and beliefs. During the last elections (2008), I just started undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C, but I told my husband that I had to carry out my responsibility. We drove to the polling station and as I alighted from the car, I saw this good friend approaching us. He was wearing his party's tee-shirt. He was trying to usher us to his camp for the registration identification. My husband took my hand and propelled me to our camp. I could see despair and frustration written all over his face. You guessed it, there were no more durians, rambutans and dokongs after that!
But, there are numerous others who put friendship before politics. I have many true friends who are very sincere in their friendship regardless of the differences in our political beliefs. To me, friendship is very precious, sacred even. True friendship should be able to overcome all obstacles, political or otherwise.
Can you guess which side I'm on? Very obvious, isn't it? It's all out there in between the lines.