Sometimes, you’re at the end of your teaching week, things are going well, and you start to forget you’re in Indonesia. Students are working in small groups, brief moments of laughter erupt but quickly pass, and you’ve got marker all over your hands. This could be a classroom anywhere in the world. But then you walk by one student’s desk and notice something a little out of the ordinary.
“Hey, what’s that in your water bottle?”
“Oh, it’s a snake.”
“Like, a real living snake?”
“Yeah. It’s a cobra!”
For a moment, words fail you (and this time not because of the language barrier). Then you vacillate between feelings of intense curiosity and sheer terror.
“Would you like to touch it?”
“No. No I would not. Aren’t they poisonous?”
Silence. (“Poisonous” was not a previously covered vocabulary word.)
“If it bites you, will you die?”
It turns out snake collecting is a hobby of this student, despite the fact that he’s already been hospitalized once before from a previous bite. The other students seem to agree that this kid is crazy, but mostly they just think your reaction is amusing. Needless to say, learning is a bit interrupted from this point on by your inability to move past the death machine nonchalantly chilling on your student’s desk.
“Can it breathe in that bottle? How are you still alive? For the love of God, keep the cap on!”
As class ends without a mishap, you reflect. It sounds like there’s anti-venom at the local hospitals, which is comforting. And if there’s negative snake karma floating around the school, it’s definitely not directed at you. Above all, though, you think that just when you’ve got a handle on teaching in semi-rural Borneo, you’re always in for new surprises. And as terrifying as snakes might be, they’re also pretty darn cool.