gallery visit – fauna by amrizal

Satrio, Ale, Vriz and I went to a local art show recently. The exhibition was “Fauna” by Sumatran artist Amrizal (pictured above). His work is currently on tour, and we were lucky enough to have him in Batu for a week. The gallery, Pondok Seni – Galeri Raos Batu, was intimate and warm; I hadn’t ever been there before, and I’m beyond happy that Satrio brought us there. The gallery has different exhibits from week to week; I’m sure we’ll go back soon so that I can share more. This was my first time seeing any artwork outside of museums and batik studios–my first glance at contemporary Indonesian art. It was wonderful.

The theme of the exhibition was “fauna” or animals, and each image had a black and white representation of humans and/or animals plus handwritten text in a variety of languages (predominately Indonesian). The text was primarily political and social commentary–the progressive and liberal type that resonates with me personally–but much of it was hard to read. There was some poetry thrown in as well. It was sometimes in accessible because as far as I could tell a lot of it was stream-of-consciousness scribbling, so the artist was writing fast n furious making the letters hard to discern at times. Plus, reading Indonesian is harder than speaking, and I struggled with the language barrier. But, I could understand that there was commentary about economics, capitalism, war (the text below the large eagle was almost exclusively anti-war commentary), education and poverty, history, geopolitics… It was stunning work and invigorating to see and experience. There’s a lively and active punk/anti-capitalist/anarchist/underground scene here, so I wasn’t totally surprised by the nature of the exhibition or its content, but it was a little bit of a surprise to find it in Batu, a tourist town with a focus on agriculture and eco-tourism. A pleasant surprise, for sure.

So, I didn’t take a billion pictures, and unfortunately we didn’t get to meet the artist in person. But you can get a quick idea from these pics about what the gallery looked like, what the basic concept of the exhibition was, and some grasp of the general/overall feeling. Next time we go to an exhibition, I will take more notes so I can provide additional (more thorough) commentary; I snapped a bunch of pics this time with the intention of posting them here so you could see what the gallery was like. The artwork was so beautiful and the space was so perfect. I had a wonderful time and felt–as I said–invigorated, like…okay, back to “normal,” ha! This was a really comfortable space for me, and I was so pleased to enjoy it with close friends. I love seeing my own political and cultural beliefs reflected to me across the medium of culture; finding connections with people (artists, friends, colleagues, whomever) at the basic or fundamental levels of worldview or political outlook despite hugely different religious and cultural backgrounds is sublime, in the sense of actual sublimity, not cheesiness. Shared subculture, solidarity. No matter where one comes from or what one’s life looks like, we can find common ground in recognizing and speaking out against common enemies (greed, corruption, consumer capitalism gone wrong, free market economics gone worse, the destruction of war, etc etc). The rest is often just details.

Thanks again to Satrio. Really looking forward to the next visit to pondok seni.
That’s all for now,
Sammy

On Baltimore, Global White Image, and Being a Non-White American in Indonesia

Originally posted on it's still raining here:

on a day where I was tol

I lately find myself at the verge of a crossroads. April prepares to roll into May. I’m 25-and-a-half months into a 27-month long Peace Corps volunteer service in East Java, Indonesia. I’m preparing to return to Chicago, the American city I call home. Half my mind remains on all of the much-missed food I’m going to eat when I touch base. Maybe more than half. The weather here has been fickle. Not far from the equator, Indonesia’s heat and humidity are typically suffocative and unrelenting, but the past few weeks I’ve been waking up to a keening call to prayer (normal) and a thick, cool fog weaving its way out from the vast cane fields (less so). It is a precipitous time in my professional and personal life, my emotional state, and, with the death of yet another black American at the hands of the police, also in my home…

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Khitan: Coming of Age

So, I haven’t been to a circumcision party in a long time, but I went to one this week! I used to go to circumcision parties all the time in the Peace Corps, but, now that I live in the city, it is a rarity for me to get invited to one (largely because I don’t live with a host family, I think). However, I got an invitation last week delivered to my boarding house, and I was stoked to go and celebrate with the family.

Circumcision parties happen in two forms here, in my experience: one where the kid is snipped right before (or sometimes during) the party and has to sit wrapped up in a sarong atop a pillow for the duration, and one where the kid is snipped several days or even a couple/few weeks before the party and the “party” is just a reception where the kid and his family receives guests (menerima tamu). Normally, in the village, the circumcision party is of the first variety. The one I went to this week was of the second. The young man of honor was a little boy I’ve been visiting occasionally to help him boost his conversational English skills.

I met the family when the father approached IRO looking for a native English speaker to hang with his kids, and Mas T hooked me up with the connection. The family is really lovely, and they treat me to a tasty meal every time we meet. I speak English with all of them; the dad’s a prof and the momma is an English and maths teacher at the local Kumon education center. Their eldest child is a sweet and thoughtful high school girl with a speech impediment (which has caused her to endure a lot of teasing here, as collectivist cultures tend to value conformity and ridicule those who stand out, especially in adolescence…although kids with lisps get teased a lot in the US too, of course). She likes the band Evanescence and loves to travel. Their youngest is a sassy, sassy boy who’s in 4th grade. He loves his iPad, eats nonstop, and speaks great English for his young age. He’s also a maths champ!

So, it was his circumcision a few weeks ago that we were celebrating this week. Last time I saw him, I asked him whether he was nervous and how he was going to cope with the procedure. He said well, I’ve got a plan–I’m just gonna bring my iPad and play games. No big deal. Ha!

An Islamic rite, the circumcision ceremony is called khitan. Age of circumcision depends on the country/culture context. Here in Indonesia (and as far as I know also in Malaysia), it occurs sometime prior to puberty but after age 5-6. Female circumcision also happens here and is known as an adapted or adopted Arab custom, although it’s not as widespread as in some African countries like Egypt and Somalia. Usually it happens at birth or in infancy for girls.* Circumcision of any kind is not directly mentioned in the Qur’an as a requirement or obligation, but it is mentioned in the hadith (the narration of the words and actions of the prophet as witnessed by those around him during his life, saved so that Muslims can behave virtuously through mimicry/embodiment) and sunnah (practices and beliefs the prophet himself, directly, taught Muslim adherents to follow).[1]

At the reception, our newly chopped friend sat on a special bench in front of a huge poster with his face on it and received guests for photos (and gifts). We had a lot of tasty food, listened to some beautiful live singing including songs by various family members brave enough to take the mic, and heard speeches from important family members like grandpa, mom, and dad. It was a lovely event, the climax of which was the little boy reciting some Qur’anic verses for the audience. (I want to upload a video, but I can’t figure it out. Sorry. Next time.)

At the end of the party, the little boy just broke my heart with his happiness at my attendance. He so sweetly asked “When are you going to come and see us again?”, really just melting my heart. He’s sassy and spoiled, and I just love him. I was glad to have gone and supported him, and meeting the extended family was lovely. This party was much swankier than anything I’d ever seen in the village, but the feeling of happiness and pride was just as palpable, and of course the tea was just as sweet.

That’s all for now; just a brief little post and a few pics. I hope you learned something new!
Sammy

*In the mid-2000s, female circumcision (female genital mutilation or FGM) was made illegal by the Indonesian federal government (even though later federal guidelines outlining safe methods and techniques for female circumcision to local health facilities contradict the federal position towards it). I think any tampering with genitals should happen in adulthood after someone, male or female, can give fully informed consent. Here’s an article on the current state of affairs re: FGM and Indonesia. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world, and FGM occurs widely and is supported by some major Islamic social organizations here despite its dangers to women’s physical and psychological (not to mention sexual) health and isn’t even prescribed by the Qur’an.

[1] http://www.understanding-islam.com/articles/sources-of-islam/hadith-and-sunnah-two-different-concepts-186

Macau travels and other tidbits!

It has been far too long since my most recent post, and a lot has happened since then. I am gonna write it all and not proofread, cuz that’s what I have time for!

First off, I got a new laptop! The battery on my old laptop crapped out, and I couldn’t find a cheap replacement. Didn’t want to spend $200 on getting a new one shipped here from Japan, so I spent $500 instead and got a new one altogether. Considering my old one was purchased in 2008, I’ve made a huge step up and remained quite thrifty about all of it; the old one definitely had a great run. The new one is about 1/3 of the weight, red instead of black, and its running Windows 8 (which I haven’t really mastered yet, but hey it sure is slick). Managed to find a laptop brand with a global guarantee and repair centers in the US. Felt a little nervous about getting one here, but my smart undergrad friend from the IT department helped me out. It took us both about two weeks to make a decision; I was nervous about spending that much money, and he was nervous about advising me and me eventually being dissatisfied. After many hours in the tech mall downtown (and two or three separate trips), I made my choice, and I’ve been very pleased with what I ended up with. I still need to sell my old laptop if possible. The one and only drawback is that if I bring this one to the US, I need to use an adaptor, but whatever, seriously. I’ve had to use one here with my old laptop for most of the past five years and it hasn’t been a major issue. Big whup! New sexy fast laptop that doesn’t burn my hands or weight a billion pounds! Rejoice!

I’m going to tell you a few things about what’s been going on lately, but I’m not going to do it in any particular order. I’ve reached that uncomfortable place where it’s just been too long to think too hard about what to write and in what order since I just need to post something!! I know I’ve got some special people out there reading (you), and I like to keep them happy. Honestly, I’ve been doing a lot more Instagramming than blogging, and if you don’t follow me already and you’re interested, I’m @tisamlette. You can also see my pictures at www.instagram.com/tisamlette if you don’t have a smartphone or an Instagram account. Thank you for paying attention to me and for loving me.

The most exciting thing of late has been my trip to Macau! Like a royally stinky turd, I didn’t blog about it immediately, even though I desperately wanted to. Sometimes, my own laziness (and my self-absorption) gets the best of me. Instead of blogging, I came back to Indonesia and just continued on with my life. I’ve reached the point where blogging isn’t necessary for me as it was in the beginning (I had a similar experience during Peace Corps service), and unfortunately it gets pushed to the backburner. I can process my life and experiences and emotions without having to write about them, which means I blog less. But I’m going to try and stop doing that…especially since I’m trying to, ahem, explore options re: continuing this journey. More on that in a few weeks.

So, I attended a folklore conference on the supernatural in Macau in late March. It was through an organization called Island Dynamics. They hold and organize the conference and facilitate tours of conference locations that are tailored to the topics in the conference. For example, last year’s Island Dynamics was in Shetland and was about religion (if I remember correctly), so the presenters all got to do a few days’ touring around and seeing important historical sites, churches, cultural stuff, etc. I think this is much better than just arriving in an exotic locale for a few days for a conference, or even arriving for a few days to the conference and spending an extra day or two trying to see things on one’s own. First of all, the tour is tailored to the topic of the conference. Second, you get to develop stronger relationships with fellow conference participants. I met so many amazing people in Macau, some of whom I hope to keep in touch with on both personal and professional levels. It was great!

Macau is a “special administrative region” or SAR of China, which is basically the same relationship between Puerto Rico and the US, just for a frame of reference. I can’t say much about the precise nature of either of these two situations, but from my basic understanding, they are similar enough to warrant the comparison. I thought that China had three SARs—Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan—but it turns out the status of Taiwan is complicated and incomprehensible to my feeble brain, and it’s not actually an SAR. Macau, a quick ferry ride from Hong Kong, was under the colonial rule of the Portuguese until 1999, when control was transferred to China. 1999!! Naturally, with so many hundreds of years of Portuguese influence, there’s an incredible hybrid culture there. It’s a blend of Cantonese and Portuguese, Buddhist/Chinese and Christian/Catholic, European and Asian, East and West, etc etc!! And it’s really amazing. I’ve never been anywhere like it, and I never really knew there was somewhere like that in this world! Even something so simple as seeing bilingual street signs in Chinese characters and Portuguese was captivating. It makes sense, but it seems so random, and proves again how much I don’t know about Asia (or how much I didn’t learn in public school in the US about the outside world).

Our tour primarily consisted of visiting cultural sites, museums, temples and churches, and eating delicious foods. We also visited several large casino complexes, as Macau is the gambling mecca of the world. It generates about seven times the profits of Las Vegas on an annual basis. Incredible! Who knew? Not me!! I mean, that’s not entirely true since I had watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Limits episode on Macau after registering for the conference (which I found on Conference Alerts), but still. Anyways, if you watch the video, you’ll get a great idea of what Macau is like. I really wanted to do the bungee jump, but it was just too expensive.

So, regarding Macau, I posted a lot of pics to Instagram and gave detailed captions about everything I saw as I was experiencing it. Please check out the pics and forgive me for making you work for it rather than simply reposting them here. Actually it takes a while to repost them, and I’ve still got so much more to say. I am totally inspired to go to China after visiting Macau. I think I’d even go back to Macau someday, if not to see it again but to visit the supremely lovely lady I couchsurfed with. So much generosity, so much pleasant chatting, so many good drinks and nice dance moves, and so many amazing, stupefying, spine-tingling, love-inspiring, lustworthy hot showers (and drool-inducing water pressure!!!!!!).

The conference took two of the six days I spent in Macau, and it was a great experience. It was my first time presenting about my current research project and my first time presenting at a conference not at BGSU (where I did my master’s). I was incredibly nervous and not fully prepared; I should have cut out some of the information and slimmed things down. I feel so passionate about my project and I tried to say too much, I think. However, I learned some great lessons about public speaking. Plus, I decided not to prepare a script or use notes (as I normally do) in favor of attempting to speak both eloquently and naturally about a topic I obviously know a ton about because it’s what I’ve been working on for the past two years, and I think that was a success. Despite talking too fast near the end because I crammed too much in, I feel comfortable with what I did considering it was so new to me. Decided right off the bat not to be too hard on myself, because that’s not productive. Just gotta take what I can from the experience. That’s the entire purpose of the trip; I struggle with public speaking, and I set a goal during grad school to try and do at least one public speaking event per semester. Met my goal and learned a lot. I think I can get better. I know I can! There’s no point in not!

So, the highlights of Macau for me were: the delicious spicy Portuguese-Cantonese duck rice I had with a Portuguese beer alongside; seeing the crazy lights at night crossing the bridge between Macau and Taipa where I was couchsufing; enjoying living with a few cats again for a short period of time; warm cognac with lemon-ginger-honey blended in; seeing the big Portuguese churches and admiring the architecture; smelling the incense constantly burning at the countless temples; taking in the flashing street signs all in Chinese characters and loving not understanding a word of it; the immaculate and so easy public transit system; the live cover band I danced to with my couchsurfing hosts when nobody else in the place was even out of their chairs; Portuguese egg tarts everywhere all the time, and good Chinese food (which I had to learn how to eat properly; never knew about the tiny bowl system! You pull the food into a tiny bowl about the size of a teacup and eat from there, not the plate, with your chopsicks. Discarded items—bones, etc—are placed directly on the tablecloth. This system made it very hard for me to monitor my portions, but I didn’t care because all of the Chinese food I had was so. damn. good. and all I cared about was stuffing more into my face); meeting some incredible people at the conference, including an Iranian woman and her husband, both of whom completely stole my heart and took me in like their little pet, and a Malay-American-British lady about my age currently working on her PhD who inspired me completely with her eloquence and confidence; and the fact that I missed Indonesia so very much. There was a charming Indonesian graduate student there who’s completing his master’s in Thailand, and it was lovely having a connection with him, speaking Indonesian, and discussing living and studying abroad…and he made me miss my friends and family here. I loved my trip and definitely felt sad to leave, but I was pleased to be home again, back in my zone at the end of it.

The week before I left for Macau, something exciting happened in Malang, and I got right back into the excitement when I came home. The newest batch of Peace Corps trainees (soon to be Volunteers) arrived from the States!! I creeped in on their campus arrival before leaving town for Macau and got to meet a few of them. Peace Corps uses UMM for its training hub, and many of my friends from IRO work for Peace Corps when the trainees come through every spring. One of the new girls had found me on Instagram through Travis, I believe (as with everyone connected to Peace Corps who finds me or knows who I am when they met me), and brought me and Maria some Butterfingers, which was a real highlight of their arrival. I tried to portion it out so I could share it with my friends but scarfed it down after the first bite. Anyways.

When they arrived, I had a huge rush of emotions and adrenaline, just seeing their faces and remembering my first experiences here. It was so nice to see them finally arrive and feel their energy. The Peace Corps is re-using my training village as a cluster site, as well, and they’ve placed a trainee, Natalie, with my host family, which is just great! I was in Macau when she arrived, but we have connected a couple times for family outings, and it’s been lovely. She’s so young and gentle. I really like her and I think she’s going to be a wonderful, caring Volunteer. She’s doing well with her bahasa too! It’s so interesting to see her and Sinta interacting in ways Sinta and I never did when I was a trainee, since Sinta was about 16 at that time. Now, like I’ve told you, Sinta is all grown up. She’s interacting a lot with Natalie—even speaking English and helping Natalie with her bahasa—and it warms my old heart. Love those girls so much!!

Since there’s a new batch of trainees, the cycle of the senior Volunteers is about to end. There are always two or three groups in country at any given time, since the stint is for two years and the trainees arrive a few months before the seniors leave. So, the people who arrived two years ago are about to finish up their service. I didn’t know any of them personally, but I knew their friends who were in country when they arrived as trainees, since those were the groups directly following my group and the groups I knew. Basically, I was in the first group (since the 60s), and the group that just arrived is the 6th. So, I knew the 2nd and 3rd groups, and the 4th group, which is just about to finish, also knew the 2nd and 3rd groups, but not mine directly. It’s weird. It really is a big family, and there are connections everywhere. Many, many people know Travis, since he networks so well and is now recruiting in Chicago. He also makes a great effort to see people when they connect to PC Indonesia on FB and before they leave to start their training. That guy!!

So, Peace Corps invited me to speak on a panel earlier this week as part of the 4th group’s close of service conference. I got to speak as an RPCV with two other senior RPCVs, both of whom served in Africa and both of whom are completely magical, well-spoken, and inspiring. One now works for Peace Corps Indonesia in Surabaya and the other has been working with USAID and the US Foreign Service for over a dozen years. We got to share about cultural readjustment, job opportunities and grad school fellowship opportunities, how to represent Indonesia and complete Peace Corps “third goal” activities (teaching US citizens about Indonesia), what to expect when leaving site and separating from really close friends and family here, what to expect upon return to the US, and a few other things. The PCVs were so sweet and nice. I had had the chance to meet them a couple of nights earlier as a party-crasher at their prom (an annual event thrown by the junior group in honor of the group that’s leaving; it was started when the 2nd group threw my group a prom in 2012 right before we finished our service) in downtown Malang. They’re a lovely and sweet group of people, and I wish I had gotten the chance to know them better…and bust even more dance moves together. I’m sure they’ll be great no matter what they do in the future. Being able to participate in their COS conference was such an honor; I liked speaking about my experience, sharing tips and tricks, and, of course, getting some tasty free lunch at the beautiful mountainside resort where the COS conferences (including mine) are held. Hooray!

Did I mention that Peace Corps came and sort of kicked me out of my house? Well, that’s not entirely true, but they do have priority over the housing I was using last semester, and now that it’s training time for PC, my old house is the local PC office. Ha! I moved in early February to a new place. It’s a boarding house in front of campus, and it’s just perfect. There are a couple of ladies from my office living in other rooms in the house (of which there are seven). I have a balcony all to myself, which is the crowning glory of the whole thing! I downgraded to cold mandi (bucket bath) status instead of hot shower status, but honestly the balcony makes it worth it. Plus, it’s more secluded, and I can really get some downtime. No real shared or really frequented common spaces, and so I feel I have more privacy. The room is pink. The walls are pink, the curtains are pink, and my blanket just so happens to be pink. But honestly I’m starting to like pink. I got a pedicure two days ago and chose pink. The pink haven is influencing me!!! Anyways, I love having a balcony (did you get that?), and the place isn’t very much. My old place was free, and this one is costing me about $35 per month, so it’s really not that bad at all. My motorcycle is more than that. Totally happy with the move, feeling content, feeling happy about it, enjoying the pink haven and my balcony. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s an even closer walk to campus than before. At least, it’s not on as busy of a road. Househunting success, thanks to my friends Nana, Bie, and Nita!

I’m going to do another post soon about some volunteer guest speaking I’ve been doing around Malang as well as a project update, but this is all for now (lest I post nothing).

Let’s all think of SK and her family as they prepare to welcome a new baby man into the fold!

Sending love from Java,
Sam

Trip to Lenggoksono – Lunar New Year

Here are some photos from a day trip to the south coast! We went last Thursday, Lunar New Year: rented a car, left at 6:30 in the morning, had fun boating around and taking pics all day, and made it back to town for spicy chicken feet by 8 o’clock. Here’s the location of the beach:

The pics below (and their captions) say it all. I thought about writing this all out, but I’m focusing on my research project right now since I’ve got a conference coming up at the end of March and need to get crackin’ on this thing. Enjoy!

Sammy Meets Bromo

I’m so excited to share a little bit about finally making the trip to Bromo.

All photo credits in the gallery go to the lovely Sharis Coppens, who does fascinating documentary-based anthropological work in Peru that’s worth checking out. I realized the night before this trip that my camera wouldn’t hold a charge, and I’m very grateful to Sharis for sending these shots my way. Before now, all I had was a smartphone pic snapped of myself by a cute group of Indonesian college kids that I cajoled into enduring data costs for my sake…

So, oddly enough, I’d never actually been to Bromo Semeru Tengger National Park, despite its easy location in East Java; it was one of those things about which I kept telling myself “You have plenty of time!” only to realize that Peace Corps service was over. I’m so glad to have finally made this pilgrimage. Here’s a map with Malang and Bromo circled (click to enlarge):

At the time of the Bromo adventure, I had a couchsurfer with me–a German lady from Switzerland. We were picked up at midnight in a Range Rover, went east to the park after picking up Sharis and her partner and another tourist couple, saw everything, had lunch, saw some more things, and were back by noonish. But wow I tell ya, that trip felt like it was never going to end. Total exhaustion, but it was totally worth it!

Yes, I look the same in both of those photos, but there we are. Below you’ll find the rest–all taken by Sharis. I went through them one by one as best I can and explained what’s going on in the photos; click for gallery view so that you can see the whole captions, which will show up at the bottom of each image.

Enjoy!
Sammy

PS: The next week, my pals and I went back to Rainbow Falls for a little more fun. Coincidence! The first and only two times I’ve been there were in the same two-week time span. Anyways, I love these people and can’t wait to go to Ijen Crater with them in a couple of weeks!

Sam's Adventures in Indonesia

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