(Dear Scott: Thanks for having my favorite MGMT song in your music for the kids. I’m going to listen to it on repeat until I finish writing this entry. Sincerely, Sam.)

Woke up early and hung out with Mbak Ika this morning; she’d spent the night with me. I slept great last night, which was very much necessary. In Indonesian, I told Ika that I slept like a rock and she said the expression here is slept like a dead person, a saying that we have in English, too, I think…slept like a dead man? Do people say that?

After breakfast I went to play group. This is a group of about fifteen tiny, tiny children who get together with three Ibus and sing songs, play games, learn stuff, and generally do what kids should do. Bart’s mom, a relative of my host dad, and another lady from town are in charge of the deal. Play group met at the kantor this morning instead of their usual spot, but I hadn’t ever been, so it didn’t make any difference to me.

We had such a lovely time. The kids were adorable; they wore matching sky blue and purple uniforms. We first sang a few songs together and did some kiddy calisthenics. The best song was about a duck that decided to go swimming with her babies before climbing a mountain where she eventually lost all of her babies, one by one. A little grim and sung in a minor key but the interpretive dance moves were priceless.

Let’s see… we learned colors together and I “taught” the kidlets their colors in English. That was fun. They were fairly terrified. After that, they jumped over a rope that was about three inches off the ground. Then they played soccer and catch. Lastly, we sang a song about washing hands and eating by ourselves…which we got to get some real life experience with when the bakso man came ‘round to the kantor. We ate bakso. At nine in the morning. All by ourselves! Adorable… and filling.

I went home with the relative of my host dad and hung out at the family compound for a bit after drinking some coffee. The keponakan Ibu gave me a copy of the Malang Post from a few days ago, yang ada Sara, Diana, and Sam on the top half of the front page. It’s a good picture and all, but… it’s so strange to see a picture of myself (a huge picture, or at least seems huge to me) on the front page of a newspaper. We’ve been in the newspapers quite a bit but this is the first time a photo of me has been published. Malang isn’t a small city… it’s larger than Bloomington, definitely, and one of the biggest cities in Jawa. To us, it always seems like there are bigger things going on that could be reported, but to Indonesian reporters, we’re the big news.

Kembali. After a little bit of chatting and snackin’ on some banana chips, I realized I had the perfect opportunity to do a little research; four generations of women in my father’s family were sitting around the coffee table in my host grandmother’s living room, ranging in age from 6 to 64, I knew it was the perfect time to ask about pregnancy and child-bearing and differences in experiences between generations.

I asked my family about giving birth here in Indonesia. The ladies I asked were my host grandmother, my host aunt, her child (a mother of two great kids, one of whom is already in elementary school), and my host mom. They told me about the Polindes offices (pos pelayanan kesehatan desa) that exist in every village. The Polindes officer deals with all of the health issues in the village that aren’t severe enough to warrant a trip to the nearby hospital. His/her services are available to all and largely free of charge.

Tlekung’s Polindes officer is the charming mother of two of our best friends, Raihan (Kit-Kat), age 4, and Raffi, age 7 months, and she can’t be more than thirty years old. My family says she’s not yet a doctor but she could become one if she went back to school. As resident Polindes officer, she’s the midwife for pregnant ladies in the village, who either visit her once a month or request house-calls during their pregnancy. Normally, and traditionally, ladies have babies at home in their bedroom, on their bed, with the officer. If the officer makes a house call to deliver the baby, he/she stays in the home of the family until the baby has been delivered, eating all meals there. This costs 400,000 Rp, or approximately $40. They can also opt to have the baby in the Polindes office, and in that case, the cost is 300,000 Rp, or approximately $30.

My host mother had her baby in my host grandmother’s house (her mother-in-law’s) and my host cousin had one of hers at home (and the other at the hospital). Host grandmother had her eldest—the host aunt of mine present during the conversation—when she was sixteen years old (which was 1946). The ladies told me that women these days are going to hospitals to have babies more frequently but still take advantage of the Polindes officer during the pregnancy, probably because traveling to the hospital is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult (in terms of transportation). I should find out how much a hospital visit costs… come to think of it, I don’t know anything about health care in this country. Time for some recon!

(Fun Fact: Nobody in Tlekung with whom I regularly interact and who’s Indonesian speaks English; I’m proud of myself. The conversation about child-bearing, etc. was great—I’m reaching a point where the driving force behind a conversation is no longer the struggle to comprehend or be comprehensible but is simply the content itself. Awesome.)

After coming home I had a difficult time convincing my Ibu that I didn’t need to eat anything since I had already had my mid-morning bakso treat. Took a little nap and then relaxed with Ibu while watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York dubbed over in Indonesian. A friend of Ibu’s came over and we chatted a bit; I’m going to church with her tomorrow since her nine-year-old daughter—a friend of mine who enjoys singing with my host dad during karaoke nights at my house—is singing in the choir. I’m looking forward to it quite a bit; I’ve not yet seen or been inside a church here in Indonesia. Hopefully I don’t have to say anything in front of the congregation. Ibu told her friend I’m Buddhist, so I’ll hopefully be able to be solely an observer instead of a participant.

The family went to Batu for supper and ate rabbit satay. Excellent! I asked my Ibu when the rabbit was slaughtered and by whom and she said this afternoon by the warung (food stand) owners, of course. She also told me that meats at the traditional pasar (market) are usually slaughtered the night before they’re sold. Since the market starts selling to vendors at 1:30am and the general public at 3am, that’s incredibly fresh meat, especially when compared to US grocery-store meats (I don’t think you can get meat that fresh at the farmer’s market in Bloomington, even—just frozen meat, right?). But of course, it’s never refrigerated…but whatever?

I can’t believe I’m up as late as I am right now—it’s 11:34 on Saturday evening. Getting’ picked up for church at 7am tomorrow and headin’ to the pasar with Ibu after that. She’s set on buying me a going-away batik, which is good news for me and a little lucu since I bought her a batik tapestry in Jogja to give her as a moving-away/thank you gift. O, synchronicity!


I didn’t sleep last night

Twenty-Seven May in Four Parts

Part I: Ode to Kate and Bob

Bob Marley’s the only reason my head hasn’t exploded. Kate’s keeping me from thinking my Bloomington life was a dream. I love both of you.

Part II: Tinggal di Tlekung, ya?

I took the angkot from Malang back to my village today. Alone, for the first time! Really alone, too…I was the only person left on the angkot by the time we reached downtown Junerejo. From Junerejo to the perempatan that’s my point of disembarkation, the driver and I chatted. I didn’t know him but he knew me.

Part III: Mom’s eyeball

What’s wrong with Mom’s eyeball?

Part IV:

When I moved to Arizona, I fell out of touch with Mike. We hadn’t reconnected yet.


Many and varied


We definitely have cockroaches in our house. It’s not a big deal; I’m sure lots of people think of cockroaches when they think of the Peace Corps, or at least they think of big bugs. My interactions and confrontations with winged and many-legged friends are certainly higher in number here than in the States, but it’s mostly exciting and less terribly than you’d think. I had my first cockroach-scrambling-over-the-foot experience today. Up until now they’ve been mostly afraid of me. I suppose they’re getting used to my presence and getting braver, as I am! I’ve also got to deal with the billions of rather large moths than congregate on my balcony every night. They like to hang out on my clothes as they’re drying and plaster themselves on the windows. Some of them are four inches across! Lastly, of course, the never-ending battles with mosquitoes in my bedroom: mostly I’m afraid of catching Dengue, so I stay up as long as necessary before I go to bed to search for and destroy all of the mosquitoes in my room. Usually this takes only ten minutes. I might be turning into a ninja.


We’ve had a couple of assignments over the past few weeks, the most difficult of which are our community project and the participatory analysis for community action (PACA) tools implementation.

Tlekung is doing a community project as a group of five. We’ll be going to the elementary school in the village and playing educational games with the kids. Bart had the awesome idea of setting up different stations and planning different activities to teach the kids about us, America, and to let them practice their English a little bit. (Side note: Bart, I know I’ve told you already, but you never cease to impress!) I’ll be doing a photography station and having them play dress-up in American-style clothing (read: our clothing)…somehow I’ll incorporate reading English into it. I’m thinking I’ll have them draw out of a hat and have instructions about which getup they should choose, maybe focusing on color vocabulary. Something like that. Then, I’ll take their pictures; we’re going to take advantage of UMM and print photos in order to make a collage, which we’ll sign and give to the school as a thank-you and forget-us-not. During the activity, the kids will also be eating pancakes, playing get-to-know-you Frisbee, doing some geography activities, and…what’s Diana doing? I don’t know yet. Something amazing, I’m sure! It’s going to be great! We’re going to have some special guests from Jakarta there, observing us: big wigs from the capital city, traveling all the way out to East Java to check bule out. These folks originally wanted to observe each cluster’s language class but they’ll be observing our community project instead. Cool!

And my PACA tools implementation project…PACA tools are really amazing starting points for community analysis that actually involve the community members and encourage them to investigate their own community and decide what they’d like to improve, if anything. The volunteer is a facilitator; if community members are invested in the process and the development projects come from and are created by them from the very beginning, any changes made are much more sustainable (which is important since the volunteer is only a temporary fixture in the community). I love the PACA tools because my philosophies about how development is done are in line with these theories, although I’ve not thought about or done community development on such a small scale before; I’ve thought lots about revolution and how it only works—and its changes only last—if its impetus is the will of the people involved, the will of the oppressed, who recognize they’re own oppression and decide for themselves to change it. I suppose I could talk about America and you-know-where, but we’ll just let that be and get back to PACA tools. I’m an employee of the US Government. Thanks, government (read: taxpayers)! Anyways, PACA tools are nice ways for me to help folks help themselves to determine whether they want to do stuff and help folks help themselves come up with ways to do stuff, if they want to…do stuff. I like it!

On being a lady PC volunteer in East Jawa, in my village, so far:

  • Host dad knows I’m capable of making coffee so asks me often to make his or make coffee for his guests while I’m making my own. I’ve not yet seen him make his own; no big deal, in the long run, but interesting. If I didn’t like making coffee for friends and family, we’d probably have a problem. I always ask my host mother what she wants to drink, too, and if she wants something, I make it. I’ve never been asked to make coffee when I wasn’t already making it for myself, although if I’m not making coffee and host dad wants it, Ibu makes it. If I were a male living in this household I wouldn’t be making coffee (Bart is hardly allowed to do anything in his kitchen), but I’m not going to make a fuss if I don’t mind it. Is that wrong? In all fairness, Bapak once cooked fried rice for me when Ibu was out of town. (Addendum, 5/26: Pak hinted heavily today that I should make tea and coffee for some guests that arrived when Ibu was still taking a nap at the other house. I complied, no problem, but I didn’t really have an option. I’m sure that if I were a male, we wouldn’t have had drinks.)
  • I was taught how to do my laundry the first week I was here. Laundry is done by hand. My host mother never offered to do my laundry. Some of the male volunteers in the group have resorted to sneaking into the bathroom and locking themselves in so they can do their laundry, otherwise their host mother will do it for them. However, there are some lady volunteers whose host mothers help them with ironing and folding. Of course, every family and every volunteer is different, but women are responsible for doing laundry in the Indonesian household. Some of the male volunteers definitely had a harder time getting their host mothers to allow them to do laundry, while the majority of female volunteers were taught how to do it the first week here.
  • Sweeping. Dudes in the group, are you sweeping? I sweep my room every Sunday and sometimes I sweep the kitchen and living room downstairs. My host sister sweeps everyday before school and Ibu sweeps in the afternoons. I saw my male neighbor across the street sweep once.
  • Sometimes my host dad tells me (not asks me), “Samantha, sit in the front room.” Even if I’m studying, I have to stop and sit with him to chat. I don’t mind since my situation here is temporary; if this were my permanent homestay, I’d probably devise a way to teach him that if I’m studying, I don’t want to be interrupted. It’s okay, now, since the reason I study downstairs is so that I can make myself available, but I wouldn’t want to always have to study in my room, isolated from the family, which is what I’d have to do now since I haven’t addressed the issue with my current host dad. No big deal but potentially problematic or at least worthy of being addressed if the situation carries over to my new host family.



Dinner with the Achmads

Ibu brought home some hardboiled duck eggs for supper today. She was in quite a sassy state as she described how hardboiled duck eggs that aren’t cracked cost 1,300 Rp each (one chicken egg is a little less than 700 Rp) but you can get three cracked ones for 3,000 Rp. “How’d they get cracked, Ibu?” I asked. “Did they fall from the ojek?” “No,” she replied. “They didn’t fall. These here? These eggs have many friends.”

Bapak decided to fry himself a chicken egg for supper in addition to his hard boiled duck egg. He enthusiastically offered to share, and I declined until Ibu told me that this was Pak’s first time ever cooking an egg (which was already evident as he had just splashed a substantial amount of oil on his forearm while flipping it). Normally, Ibu fries up the eggs and lets the oil drip off a bit before serving them; tonight, Pak was so tickled about sharing his egg that he carried it straight from the pan toward my plate. Hot oil dripped all over the floor and Ibu started shouting in Javanese, quickly grabbed the spatula straight out of Bapak’s hand, and dumped the egg onto my plate—dripping hot oil onto the top of my left foot in the process. A translation of what I said in bahasa Indonesia goes something like this: “Oh, Ibu! Ibu just hot oil on the top of my foot!” No burn, though; just hilarity and a little more shouting. Bapak felt quite harassed but satisfied that he could blame Ibu. She promptly wiped my foot and taught me how to say “dripped” in bahasa Indonesia (menetes, in case you ever need to know).

We ate boiled goose eggs, the fried chicken egg, some curried cassava leaves leftover from my lunch at school, and instant noodles—with rice, of course! Ibu couldn’t buy any groceries today because Sinta’s motorcycle is busted. I’m quite glad.

PS: Bapak just farted. I didn’t say anything. He said, “Aw, Ibu!” I smiled. Bapak said “Bapak keluar aingin di bawa!” which literally translates as “Bapak let air out from below!” Indonesian is great. Now they’re asking me who farted. I’ve gotta go.

PPS: Now they’re playing swit, Indonesian rock-paper-scissors, featuring man, ant, elephant (pointer, pinkie, and thumb, respectively)…or maybe rock-paper-scissors is American swit.

** 5.27

Community development project at the elementary school was a huge success. Good news considering the big wigs from Jakarta as well as our training and country directors showed up! More photos to follow whenever (if ever) there’s time.




Indonesians are shy to express their wants, particularly in terms of food and drink. If they want something, they will repeatedly say “No, thanks!” when they really mean “Yes, please.” Accordingly, actually not wanting to eat or drink something doesn’t translate. Hence, I’m constantly stuffed, and slightly sick to my stomach at the thought of food or a food-related confrontation (all of which inevitably end in my eating more). In my mind, I want to be polite; I see repeated offers of food as attempts at politeness and see acceptance of those offers as reciprocation of the extended good manners. However, Indonesians see my eventual acceptance as something completely different: if after repeated declinations I accept the food, my host believes I have done what I’ve wanted to do all along (eat or drink what was being offered). I see accepting as accomplishing three things: my host stops his/her relentless offerings, which satisfies me; I satisfy my host by accepting; and I get a stomachache because I’ve eaten when full or consumed a cup of liquid sugar, which is called “coffee” in these parts (Bercanda! But seriously.). Normally, no big deal, but this kind of thing has been happening on a daily basis for the past…since I got here. You can imagine what days and days of stomachaches can do to a girl. Not ideal. Hampir dreading going to visit someone else’s house or the sound of the bakso vendor on my street is pretty depressing (though, I admit, equally humorous).

But earlier in the week I learned why this happens to me.

I’ve thought for the past two and a half months that I was being treated as a guest, which isn’t necessarily true. In fact, this system of offering/declining/accepting is called basa-basi and it’s commonplace here. What’s actually going on is this: Indonesians offer food and offers are initially declined because, in the words of my host family, Indonesians are too shy to reveal what they really want. So, the host keeps offering until she/he goes ahead and serves even if the food/drink has been declined repeatedly. Then, since the guest actually wants the food but has been to shy to accept it, they take what they really want(ed all along).

Can you see where this is going? I’ve been giving in after declining honestly, mainly to please my host, who really couldn’t care less—the host simply wants to be polite and is assuming that I in fact do want to eat or drink but will be too shy to say so. My acceptance affirms, in my host’s mind, that I always wanted something (when I didn’t!). Of course, Indonesians don’t realize that we don’t have basa-basi in American culture…and I didn’t realize it existed at all. So, I thought the Indonesians were being pushy* while they thought I was being polite (they were being polite and I just felt bad about giving in and making myself sick). They want me to have what I want and need…though by eventually accepting something, I was setting the level of my own consumption way above standard. Of course, this means the host becomes even more persistent because he/she thinks I’m capable (and desirous) of eating mountains of food. O, the many hours of pain and discomfort!

Luckily I discussed the issue with my host family last night because I learned a little bit about basa-basi in class this week. My host family had no idea that I wasn’t operating under that system and that my refusals are genuine. Likewise, I had no idea they weren’t treating me differently than they would treat anybody else (Indonesians “pressure” each other, too). I repeatedly accepted in order to be polite since I thought they were trying to be polite, too. We had a good laugh over it all and since yesterday I’ve been saying, before every refusal of food or drink, “Without basa-basi, I am not hungry!” It works, sort of! Plus it makes my host mother laugh, which is always excellent. We understand each other a little bit better now and I’m significantly less stuffed than days past (and the best part of all…today I did not have to have my traditional afternoon-off-but-two-hours-before-the-not-unusual-supper-of-gigantic-proportions “snack” of bakso!). I’m satisfied and my host mother is glad to know I’m not withholding any secret desires for enormous, never-ending meals and countless afternoon snacks. I’m glad she now knows that, too.

I also explained to the fam that I do, in fact, want to try everything, and if there’s ever any bit of space in my stomach and I’m offered a new food, I’ll try it. I told my host mom that sometimes there’s simply no room in my belly at all, which is true. At least I haven’t been stuffed with food I don’t like. It’s all delicious, and now I’ve regained control over how much I eat,** which means I can enjoy what I do eat even more. Just in time, too… now that my host family and I have an understanding, I’ve got less than two weeks left here. Oh, boy. It’ll start all over again, and probably be less ideal than ever…since my new host parents are grandparents, and grandparents in Indonesia like feeding me just as much as grandparents in the States (from what I can tell so far). I’m a little more prepared now, though, thanks to the newfound basa-basi knowledge.

*We’re talking pushy. This is way beyond the level of insistence I’m used to. In America, maybe someone would offer a drink/food twice before stopping. Right? Here, there are probably four or five offers from the main host and numerous offers from other Indonesians present. Everyone will sit and stare at you until you take something. There’s a sort of pattern to the offers, too… Take again, please take, what do you want to eat, take this, it’s delicious, let’s go, eat, let’s go, take, please, help yourself, take again! It’s the mantra of the Indonesian host. And they don’t stop until you take the food!! They “can’t” conceive that no means no because it doesn’t. I’m the anomaly.

**All the stuff we’ve read about how Indonesians won’t offer more if you still have food on your plate is complete hogwash, by the way. My host mother sometimes says “Let’s go, take again!” before I’ve taken my second bite of the first helping. It’s ridiculous and it would be funny if it didn’t always lead to extreme physical discomfort (okay…it’s pretty funny.).


Things that are unexpectedly ubiquitous in Indonesian popular culture: the phrase “OMG!”; Steven Seagal; cross-dressing; bling for jilbabs (and the combination of jilbabs and skinny jeans); Mr. Bean.

Eat things before asking what they are. This way, you can realize rabbit livers and cow skin can be quite delicious.


It’s gonna be two years here. It’s setting in. I miss my friends (and family, of course) so much. I miss hanging out at the house, drinkin’ coffee, relaxing in the basement…I’m fantasizing about trips to the farmer’s market, playing instruments, cooking…running, biking, washing machines, and Indiana air. Emily and Evelyn…where are you?

Today I love (about Indonesia): batik, es buah, catchin’ an angkot and chattin’ up strangers, seeing Southern Hemisphere stars for the first time (last night; it’s the dry season! No clouds!), eatin’ with my hands, Pallapa, my Tlekung pals.

PS: New template? Yeah! Plus, I took that photo at Candi Prambanan outside of Jogjakarta. Nice!


Paragraphing didn’t copy and paste. Apologies!

5.4 Tonight my host father left shortly after I came home (read: after Di and I walked home in the monsoon uphill for an hour!); he told me he was going to Batu to meet some friends. Ibu and I stayed home and ate supper together and were joined by her two best friends. We starting singing some karaoke in the living room and danced a bit. It wasn’t too long before they told me where my Bapak was… at Batu Night Spectacular singing karaoke with his friends!!! Sneaky! He didn’t even tell me. He knows I love to hear him singing karaoke, but I think it would have been a bad scene if I tried to invite myself to Batu. Here in Indonesia, karaoke is very much a male bonding activity. However, we had plenty of lady bonding rockin’ out to early 90’s Indonesian power ballads and pop songs, complete with very stylish music videos (including a live performance featuring an extremely jolly toy keytar player with royal blue cutoffs and a perma-grin). Amazing evening, overall… Bapak still isn’t home yet. I wonder what he’s singing right now.

5.5 This morning I sat in the front of the house with my host dad and chatted with him about our events of the previous evening. I hadn’t slept well and told him so; he asked if I heard him come in at 11pm the previous night, which I didn’t. My Ibu was sweeping and piped up that he came home, actually, at 2am. I said, knowingly, wow, you must have had a lot of business to do with your business friends in Batu! He replied affirmatively. I told him how Ibu and I had sung karaoke together and wasn’t it too bad he missed it? At that point he knew that I knew he had not been attending to business in Batu. Ibu yelled, “Yeah! He was singing karaoke in Batu!” and we all had a great laugh. Adorable.

***** Sam dyes hair in the Peace Corps… So… I’ve decided to keep dyeing my hair (black). I bought the dye the other day at the “Zam Zam Mart” in the next village over. It cost 5200 Rp per package and I bought two, approximately $1.40. There weren’t gloves nor was there a bottle with a nozzle. I wasn’t surprised but I still wasn’t exactly sure how to manage without these items; I couldn’t use a bowl of my host mother’s and I didn’t want to buy a new one. I decided to use a plastic Danone drinking cup, the top of which I had to cut off using my pocketknife, in the style of Maggie on the Rez with the Basha’s pencil holders. I mixed the dye with a Q-tip and applied it with gloves from the PC Medical Kit. I already asked my PC Medical Officer (PCMO) if I get free gloves throughout service…absolutely I do.

5.6 Today my host father said “What’s that water on your book?” I said it was just rainwater. He said “No, it’s probably drool! You must have fallen asleep when you were reading! You’re such a bookworm!” All in bahasa, of course. Hilarious. Then he asked me who was more handsome, Pak Jack’s driver Mas Yonas or himself. To his delight, I said “Bapak!” Much laughter and happiness.

5.9: “The Midnight Train to Jogja” The nineteen of us, our two training directors, Susi, and our four language teachers all took a tour bus to Jogjakarta last weekend. About ten hours away from Malang, it’s one of the largest cities in Indonesia and the largest producer of batik in Jawa (if not the entire country). It’s home to the Borobudur and Prambanan temples as well as the Kraton of Jogjakarta. Our trip was lovely; Susi organized everything so that we didn’t have to organize our own transportation hardly at all, our hotel rooms were already booked when we arrived, and almost all of our meals were arranged. Though I felt initially that I wanted to try and fend for myself and organize the trip by myself (and many of my friends felt this way, too), it turned out to be great to just relax and not worry about anything. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves for most of this trip; there’s so much to describe, especially when it comes to the temples…which are, truthfully, indescribable. We had a great time taking becak to Malioboro, the main drag for batik and souvenir shops. This was my first time hiring a ride in one of these giant tricycles with front-facing seats. Honestly, it was quite terrifying, only because we drove on the main streets as cars and motorcycles zoomed past. The drivers could only go so fast and the becak itself is fairly large; we had more than a few close calls over the course of the weekend. (I just wrote a lengthy section describing road culture in Indonesia but decided to delete it so I don’t cause you any unnecessary worry; suffice it to say that if you would like to worry about anything regarding my living here, it’s the driving/riding/walking in the city. Ha!). Another exciting part of the trip was all the bartering I got to do. I had a rather successful weekend bargaining for my own purchases and also helping my friends out with theirs. It’s basically the same way each time; you look at something, the seller offers you a price which you immediately proclaim (rather theatrically) is far too expensive; the seller asks you to offer a price; you make an insultingly low offer that’s promptly declined; you bicker back and forth about how high or low quality the item is; you make a final offer which is always declined; you walk to the next toko and start browsing elsewhere; the seller waits a couple of minutes and then accepts your offer and calls you back to his or her toko. I bought a batik purse that was originally offered at 40,000 Rp but that I bargained down to 15,000 Rp That’s the equivalent of just over $4.00 down to just over $1.50. I also helped Travis and Gio get a couple of sweet daggers down from 50,000 Rp each to 35.000 Rp for two. Fun, funny, exciting. The sellers love it when they realize I can both speak bahasa Indonesia and that I know about bargaining and how to do it. I feel bad for bargaining over such small prices, but it’s horribly common for sellers to mark their prices up hundreds of percent when they see a foreigner shopping (of course nothing has price tags so there’s no way of knowing at what price they’d sell the item to a local). But frankly, I’m on a $1.75 per diem, so I can’t afford to pay for things as if I’m making the same salary I made in the States. Important lessons learned in Jogja: my current local is, indeed, the coolest place in Indonesia—Jogja is an oven; pecel is delicious and spicy and one of my new favorites; singing karaoke on a bus is one of the best activities to pass the time; police can easily stop busses for no reason (or a reason like “your bus is too big for this road”) but busses can easily continue on their way for a small bribe (such as 50,000 Rp); buying oleh-oleh, gifts for the family back home, is somewhat stressful and rather expensive but worth it; hotels that know foreigners are their primary clientele increase food prices accordingly, to my dismay; I can get really, really hot and really, really sweaty in an incredibly short period of time.

***** 5.9 The Economy Train to Malang

We went to Surabaya day before yesterday to see the Peace Corps Indonesia program headquarters, recently renovated from an old art collector’s house. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia and its name comes from an ancient fable involving a dueling shark (sura) and crocodile (buaya). It’s way up on the Northern coast of Java, near the bridge to Madura. We took a public bus to get there and it only took two hours and one breakdown to make it to the Surabaya station. We too taxis from there to PCHQ, which is located very near the US consulate in Surabaya (I’m not yet sure if there is another consulate besides that or the main one in Jakarta… maybe not). Luckily, we were free after a short tour and brief get-to-know-you activity (for the staff we hadn’t yet met). I went with some friends from another cluster to the Surabaya Town Square for lunch and treats. I’m fairly sure that “Town Square” is a generic name for gigantic shopping malls that are found in the larger cities. The Surabaya TS was filled with interesting places to eat interesting foods; we chose a place that served tiny, tiny portions at insanely high prices, lucky for us. We ate anyways and then had some frozen yogurt. After lunch, the girls and I went to the bookstore in search of novels in English and newspapers. Against the desires of those who care for us, we took an angkot down the street after walking too far in the wrong direction to turn around and walk to the bookstore. It wasn’t a big deal and we didn’t get (too) ripped off. We knew where the bookstore was, so felt confident that the angkot could go straight there and drop us off promptly. At the bookstore we found lots of books and some delicious drinks; I had an avocado-coffee-chocolate smoothie with vanilla ice cream and it was fantastically strange and delicious. We all hooked up later to go to supper; to our delight, Truong had made it the group mission to find and eat some sushi. After deciding on a place and deciding there were too many of us to take taxis, we flagged down an angkot and climbed in. Mind, it was already dark and a little rainy outside… we were surprised and confused when the angkot helper (the kid who sits in the door and collects money for the driver) immediately asked us for money (normally, in our area and during the afternoon ride, the angkot driver is paid after the destination is reached). We said we would pay him when we arrived and he told us that they needed to get gas for the angkot. We also realized at this point that he wasn’t exactly sure where we were going… luckily a nice Ibu who was also riding said she lived near the place we wanted to go, so she gave him directions. He persisted to harass us about paying up front; we insisted on waiting. Eventually, after he started staring at me too intently and speaking too vehemently, we decided to pay him the angkot fee. We had trouble, of course, when some of us wanted to pay for others (specifically, my cluster takes turns paying for rides because it’s rare that we all have change small enough to pay individually, and Bart wanted to pay for the four of us, which confused the poor boy and probably angered him) and some didn’t want to pay at all. We rolled up and parked behind another angkot and the nice Ibu got the hell out of there because she could tell something wasn’t right. We could tell, too. The angkot boy told us we’d have to get into the angkot in front of us and that that driver knew where to go and would take us there for free. Of course, we didn’t believe this; angkots are, from what we can tell, independently owned and operated. At least, they don’t share money in any way. We knew we’d have to pay again. We didn’t want to get swindled (on principle: it’s $0.30 per ride), so Diana and Bart tried to get the angkot boy to tell the other driver that we had already paid. He wouldn’t; things were getting a little heated and rather uncomfortable. The original driver was yelling and (I found out today) lightly hit Diana on the shoulder while trying to get us to get inside the other angkot and Bart was arguing with the angkot boy. We decided to just walk away because we knew it wasn’t worth it… Travis yelled “Nice trap!” in bahasa Indonesia as we were leaving. Overall, a stressful yet amusing scenario. We ended up at a strange shopping mall somewhere in the middle of Surabaya and decided to take taxis from there back to the Town Square, where we knew there was food to eat (and beer to drink). After searching the TS we found a sushi place that ended up being quite good. I hadn’t ever had non-vegetarian sushi before. I had a spicy tuna roll and something else that was equally delicious. We went downstairs and found a pub, drank beer, listened to a sweet DJ and a less sweet cover band… but were immediately escorted to a neat light-up table in the corner. You’d be amazed at the (unwanted) special treatment we get here. Next day… Economy train to Malang. We thought it would leave at 10 so we arrived at the station at 9. We bought our 4500 Rp ($0.45) tickets and decided to go to Dunkin’ Doughnuts to pass the time and have a snack while waiting for the train to leave, which we learned actually left at 11. I ordered a durian-cream filled doughnut just because I couldn’t not order it; it was disgusting. Everybody tried it and hated it. I really love durian, but… eck. We waited on the tracks until about 11:30 before boarding the train, which was old and rather rickety. We were lucky enough to get seats!! I sat by one of the 4” windows, which didn’t keep me any cooler than anyone else, I’m sure. We were sweating and thirsty before the train left the station. There were vendors with ice drinks, snacks, and stuff… sellers would come by and throw a stack of something (books, candies, stickers) in your lap and come back a few minutes later and recollect it. Annoying! I didn’t buy anything! In Surabaya, the train tracks run alongside the slums. I don’t have the energy to describe them. We passed numerous waterways and ponds that were filthy and reeking from rotting garbage. When we got out of town the view was beautiful, though; so many rice paddies! Still, every so often we’d pass some more foul water…you can imagine a train without fans or AC in 95 degree weather traveling the same direction as a drainage stream. Not good. Plus, the train would stop every fifteen minutes or so when it arrived at the next station, but it would be stopped for fifteen minutes as people got on and off as inefficiently as possible. It was so hot when the train wasn’t moving… even the nationals were dripping with sweat. You can imagine the Americans! It was pretty amusing, even to us. We were situated in two groups and when we checked in with one another to make sure nobody was sick we had to talk pretty loudly… the Indonesians hushed right up. We were sore thumbs for sure. The ride ended up taking twice as long as we thought it would be; we arrived in Malang about 4 ½ hours after we left Surabaya. We were all soaked through with sweat and hungry but we were home, finally. Stepping out of the train into the fresh air was the best. I’m not sure if I’ll ever take the train again, but I’m glad I did at least once. You have to know how people get around and frankly it fits my budget (a private car from S’baya to Malang would probably cost $30) so I’m glad to know how to do it and what to expect. After getting off the train I still had almost an hour’s worth of traveling to do. We had to take an angkot to the north side of Malang and then take an angkot back to the village… taking those two angkots cost 8000 Rp ($0.80). Compare that to the train ride… 1/8 the distance and almost twice the cost but significantly more comfortable. Big open windows. Important lessons learned in S’baya: the PC headquarters is excellent and I’ve got 24 hr. access to the Volunteer lounge and Internet-connected computers, so I can go there whenever I want or need; brownies and Oreos are very delicious; Noel and Lyn are suckers (Travis and I are winners).

*** I just took a throat lozenge from the PC medical kit; my entire mouth is numb and my throat is still sore.

**** 5.10 I’ve got a sore throat and my host mother just went to buy something for it… I’m not sure what she’ll buy, but I bet it will cure me better than anything in the med kit. My host family is convinced that I’ve gotten sick from too much travel and not enough rest, which I believe. Bapak also said that if it’s hot (like it was in S’baya) and you drink anything with ice in it (like I did with lunch on Friday), you’ll get sick. I don’t quite know why, but it’s so, he says. Tomorrow I’m not allowed to eat anything spicy or drink any coffee, a sad state of affairs indeed. Now I’ve got to take a mandi. Host dad just finished; today he took his cigarette into the bathroom with him. He normally takes his cell phone, too, and answers it when someone calls. Ibu makes the best faces… “Isn’t he ridiculous?” So true.

*** 5/9 Makin coffee with Scotty’s host family

We went to somewhere far from our village and made coffee! Really made it. Roasted the beans and everything. Scotty’s family has coffee trees and they harvested and processed the beans before we arrived; we took the unroasted beans and went to a roaster’s house and used his traditional stove to blacken them. We then went to another house to grind them. They smelled so good! The whole process took a couple of hours and we ended up with eight or so kilos of grounds (fine kopi Jawa grounds). I tried it last night and it was superb. By the time I got home it was still warm from the roasting…!

*** 5.10 The tailor finished sewing our batiks! They’re amazing. A perfect fit. So beautiful. Overall, about 75000 Rp, or $7.50… for a hand-sewn custom-made batik shirt.

***5/16: Happy Birthday BRADY.

All healthy. At campus for Hub day. I think I’m finding out my final site later. Wow!

Kate and Sal are getting lots of hugs from across the ocean.