In Defense of Jasmine Tea, or The Great Crisis of Identity

I won’t say I didn’t feel like I might turn into a whack-evac this week. In PC lingo, that’s someone who’s medically evacuated for reasons of mental instability. Google “Peace Corps” plus “stay sane” and see how many hits you get; this adjusting thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be though I know I’m not the only person for whom settling-in is posing problems. Thank goodness for Mas Andy and his normalcy, ability to take an angkota to my village without a chaperone, and willingness to come over and chat; thanks (to Diana and Bart, too) for listening to the rantings and ravings that I usually reserve for poor Bastin and my crew back home. It’s hard to be a lunatic and a PCV at the same time…though not uncommon (I’m talking about you, Tlekung). Also, sorry in advance: menstruating in a foreign country wherein there are no hot showers and only squatty potties is less than ideal. I know I shouldn’t complain because this whole thing is only temporary, but…indulging my id makes me feel better! Woe is me! O hardship! I wish I had hot water, even if just for one bloody week! So there!!

Now that that’s over with, here’s what happened. The combination of the aforementioned physical condition, still being overly-protected by my host community, being unable to vent frustrations face-to-face with other Volunteers, and the insanity of this weekend led to a near-breakdown! I practically forced poor Andy to come over and visit me on Monday—though, to be fair, I did inform him when we still lived in Malang that I occasionally go crazy and need to be assisted.

I’ve been feeling more shaken up than I thought I would during this settling-in process. I know I’ve said that before, but I suppose some further clarification is in order. It’s been very difficult moving away from Bloomington and then again away from Malang—our lives as PCVs have been upset and uprooted twice in the past four months! We base our identities on not few factors surrounding the place where we live: the culture, community, routines, family and friends, language, places, food, and the earth itself contribute substantially to our identity and the perception of ourselves. Being taken out of the comfortable and thrust into totally new surroundings is a great adventure and an exciting one, too, but this is not traveling for pleasure and it’s not as temporary as a vacation. I’ve got a job here for two years, and it’s a 24/7 job. I’m living in Indonesia basically on my own and if I don’t do things right, I won’t survive: there’s a pressure to make friends, integrate, be active, talk to people, be visible, and start working. This is at odds with the fact that the activities that make me feel normal—those that are part of my identity and that have traveled with me, far from Indiana and my home country*—are solo activities: reading, writing, watching movies, meditating, yoga, etc. These activities are helping me cope with the changes in the short term but aren’t necessarily bolstering my long-term survival rate, which is directly related to my integration into the community. Naturally, I get stressed by thoughts of not doing enough to help my integration but disheartened by thinking of giving up some of the (sanity maintaining) solo activities. I get paranoid about wasting time. I’m not very forgiving when it’s myself involved, either; I’m having to learn to accept truly that I’m going to have to take breaks and be selfish. It will keep me from going mad!**

I’ve also been thinking how the Indonesian “Samanta” will have to be different than the American Sam—already I have to hide my tattoos, had to remove my piercings, change my wardrobe, stop indulging in activities that are not appropriate for young women in Indonesia, not to mention substantially change my language, behavior, daily routines, physical location, job, and make new friends as well as integrate into a new family. And how will the American Sam be effected, two years from now? That’s a long time.

So, story-telling time. Weekend insanity! We had been getting ready for the big party on Saturday since Tuesday afternoon, and preparations culminated in me witnessing the slaughtering of over half a dozen chickens and the ladies making more than 3,000 skewers of chicken satay for the main course. The chickens that were slaughtered were my fat friends who lived behind the house…I was fairly distraught, but it’s okay. Chickens get slaughtered. They were fat and happy (up until Saturday) and they had good lives. It was quite amazing, the amount work that has to go into making a live chicken edible: each was slaughtered, doused with hot water, plucked, cut apart, washed thoroughly, and finally cooked. Not a quick process, but totally worth it…that chicken was delicious! Better tasting and certainly healthier than chicken in the States or from the pasar tradisional (traditional market).

We also spent time preparing the 600 snack boxes we had to make for our guests. This consisted of assembling the cardboard boxes and filling each with a cup of water, a straw, a napkin, a dodol (coconut/sugar/beras sticky brown squares that we made and packaged at the house), a pancake taco, and a little powdered bonbon. Some new ladies came over to help stuff snack boxes and I got real anxious because I had to go though the introductory conversation with each one of them… and I was worried I was going to have to do it 600 more times later in the evening. I was losing my patience. It was a bad scene. The conversation is pretty unbearable; I have to go through it at least a few times every day. It goes something like this:

New friend: Wow, you’re beautiful! And so tall! And big! Where are you from?

Me: America.

New Friend: Oh, America! Americans are big, aren’t they? Yeah, you’re really tall. How long have you been here?

Me: Three months in Malang, three weeks here.

New Friend: Oh, begitu. But you can already speak Indonesian! Did you study it in America?

Me: Nope, just in Malang.

New Friend: Wow, you’re smart! How old are you?

Me: Twenty-three.

New Friend: Do you have kids?

Me: Not yet.

New Friend: Do you have a husband? You’re so beautiful.

Me: Nope, not yet. I want to have a job first.

New friend: Oh! Hey, you should marry an Indonesian. Do you want to marry an Indonesian? You can take him back to America. Do you want to find a Javanese husband?

Me: Maybe. I want to have a job first!

New Friend: Wow, you’re beautiful. Indonesians are so ugly. We’re so black. You’re so white and beautiful. What’s your favorite food in Indonesia?

Me: I like everything except salty fish. Nasi goreng and gado-gado are my favorites. (This always inspires copious amounts of laughter…haven’t quite figured out why!)

New Friend: Oh, wow! So, do you like Indonesia? Do you feel at home?

Me: Yes! I like it a lot. It’s really hot here!

New Friend: What are you doing here, anyways?
Me: I’m a volunteer English teacher, I’ll be here for two years.

New Friend: Oh, I see. Come over to my house sometime, okay? What’s your name?

Me: Samantha!

I appreciate that everyone wants to say hello and find out who I am, but…gosh, I must have had this same conversation a hundred times or more since coming to site. And New Friend always laughs after every response. I’m only so patient. Besides, I get real uncomfortable when I’m asked about finding an Indonesian husband. What am I supposed to say to that? “Actually, yeah, I really want to marry an Indonesian! Do you know one? Have an extra son hangin’ around?” It’s also weird when they rant about how beautiful I am in comparison to Indonesians, who, after listening to these women, you’d believe are the ugliest, most hideous wretches ever to have the misfortune of living. And everyone brings this up. Sometimes, too, I can tell the New Friend is more interested in talking to me because they think I’m weird and strange and novel and something they can tell their friends about later, not because they’re really interested in getting to know me or in becoming my friend. Granted, this has its merits (visibility, contact with HCNs, Sam practices bahasa), but when I’m feeling less than patient or when I’m being forced to talk with someone—when someone wants to play show pony with the American, for example—I get very irritated, very quickly (but I never show it, lest I appear “culturally insensitive”).

Anyways, I had to go through this introductory chit-chat while stuffing snack boxes with the friends of Ibu Mama. Then we ate lunch together…Ibu Mama hovered over me and watched me serve myself, watched me start eating, and her friends all watched, too. I understand that I’m new and different and they’re curious, but sometimes it’s too much! I just want to take my plate into my room and hide away from the staring eyes. So much staring, all the time…not just in my house, either. I get stared at when I’m sitting on my front porch, walking to school, riding my bike, going shopping, coming out of my bedroom in the morning, taking a walk in the afternoon, going into any store or warung, everywhere.

I also spent some time helping the ladies prepare food for the party…but wasn’t allowed to do much, which was frustrating, too. Sitting down, watching ladies do stuff that I’d like to learn how to do, and being told I’m not allowed to help because I might get dirty or hot is just unbearable. Eventually, when Ibu Mama wasn’t around, I snuck in and started doing stuff (cutting lontongs, stirring sambel and dodol), which she later found out about (or saw first-hand), to my pleasure; she’s starting to realize I’m a competent human being. It was very refreshing and soothing to do a little bit to help the preparations.

The party started and, to my surprise, was actually a religious event for the men of the village. All of the guests—upwards of 600 men—were dressed in their traditional Javanese Muslim sarongs and peci hats, sitting cross-legged in the emptied-out living room of my house and spilling onto the front porch and into the side rooms. I wanted to go to bed early, and did so while the men were still performing recitations from the Qur’an. I had to get up at 2 am later that night to leave for Jogja with the kids; I ate my chicken satay in the kitchen and told Ibu Mama I was headed for bed. She immediately grabbed me by the arm and whispered, “I’ll take you to bed.” It was strange—I didn’t realize at this point that the guests were all men and that they were all sitting down in my living room, in plain sight of my bedroom door—I didn’t know why she felt the need to escort me to my bedroom. We walked into the hallway and more than a thousand male eyeballs turned at stared, stared, stared at the white girl! It was weird! I fumbled with the key to my door, hopped inside, and shut the door before turning on the light. I’m still very nervous around Javanese men…I think it’s because I’m so nervous about being polite all the time and offending them with my American femininity; I do enjoy surprising Indonesian people and challenging their thoughts about the capabilities of women/Americans/American women, but I can’t afford to offend people if I want to become a member of the community. I especially can’t afford to offend the men, who have the majority of the political, economic, and social power here. So, I resort to extreme politeness, partially out of nervousness, partially as a strategy for preventing any horrible faux-pas. But hell, I’m nervous around most men…just a bit more so than usual when they’re super-tough farmer-types who speak my new language very, very quickly and expect me to respond just as fast and like to do the introductory chit-chat which sometimes ends up feeling like I’m getting the third degree.

So, I went to bed and woke up at 2 am to get ready to leave for Jogja. I had organized a ride with Pak Haris and thought he’d be picking me up at 2:30 seeing as the bus was leaving the school at three. At three, Pak Agus called me, asking where I was. I told him I needed a ride; I wasn’t about to walk alone to school in the middle of the night, no matter how close it is! So, Pak Haris and Pak Mustofa came over to pick me up… on their motorcycles. By this point, both Ayah and Ibu Mama had woken up. I felt terrible. We explained that I wasn’t allowed to ride motorcycles and Pak Mustofa left for school. He came back about five minutes later with a student, to walk with me to school. Still, both Pak Haris and Pak Mustofa followed on their motorcycles while we walked in front. Embarrassing for me! Inconvenient for many Indonesians!

Arrived at school to find that the busses hadn’t yet arrived. I wasn’t surprised! The kids were all there, though, lookin’ great in their matching trip T-shirts, the girls in angelic white jilbabs. Busses eventually arrived and we departed, most of us quickly falling asleep.

The trip took a little over four hours. Our first stop in Jogja was a recreational park, which was where I saw the waria performance. Waria are men who dress up as women for the sake of performing. They’re not necessarily accepted here, but from what I can tell, Indonesians (Muslim or not) are more tolerant than the majority of Americans are toward drag queens. That may be wishful thinking, but I’ve heard lots of Indonesian men and women talking about waria and they don’t speak of them scornfully or hatefully. On the other hand, though, there was an attack by a radical Islamic group on a conference being held by an organization of waria in Jakarta about a month ago, so. In reality, the reception/level of acceptance is probably equal to that of queens in America…there are so many similarities between America and Indonesia that I wouldn’t hesitate to say this is probably another of them.

After the park we went to an Indonesian military/air force museum, which was great. There were tons of dioramas, old photographs, and probably twenty or so planes, mostly from the World War II era (which includes the struggle for independence here in Indonesia, gained in ’45). Unfortunately, we got stuck in a traffic jam on the way there and only had about twenty minutes to run through all of the display rooms. Interestingly, the teachers didn’t brief the kids before or after they went into the museum. We just got off the bus, ran though, the kids snapped some photos, and then ate meatballs.

The museum was followed by a trip to Parangtritis beach, on the south coast…an hour and a half away from Jogja. It was already late afternoon and we stayed until the sun set. That’s where I ate undur-undur, which I resisted at first! They weren’t so bad, though. Very shrimpy. The teachers were very amused by my initial aversion and were delighted to disgust me further by describing how these little creatures crawl on the ocean floor…backwards. Shudder! I ate one anyways, once I had a plate of rujak (fruit salad with spicy sambel), of which I took a bite directly after eating the undur-undur.

We left, hit the town square and Malioboro street to shop (I bought some much needed T-shirts and a couple of batiks), stopped for dinner, bought oleh-oleh for our families and friends (souvenirs, usually food, always required on trips!), and hit the road. By this time it was 11 pm… we didn’t get back until 3 am. Of course, both busses stopped in front of my house to drop me off. Embarrassing!

I was exhausted when we finally reached home. I slept until 8 am (that would be like sleeping until two in the States—horribly late, horribly lazy), woke up and dyed my hair (with L’Oreal dye bought in Magetan for the same price as it costs in the U.S., which means it’s extremely expensive here but definitely worth it considering the cheap Indonesian dye I bought last time turned my roots red!), met up with Andy at 10 am, took the angkota with him to get pizza in Magetan for lunch, then took the angkota home alone—to the surprise of my host parents—because Andy needed to take a different bus to get back to his place. After that, I went for a bike ride and delivered my oleh-oleh: one for Pak and Bu Lurah, one for Bu Heri (who didn’t go on the trip—she’s got three kids, one of whom is five months old), and one for Bu Nani, my new neighbor friend. Also gave some to my host parents. The specialty in Jogja is a tiny little cake filled with sweet mung bean paste that’s flavored with anything from cheese to pineapple to chocolate. They are delicious! Always a hit!

So, it’s not like I’ve been locked in my room, sitting around all depressed like. Things have been fun and delicious, as usual. Things are infinitely better after Monday’s rescue mission—there’s something terrible about not being allowed to go out of town on my own. I can’t stand to spend my break time solely in my bedroom. I gotta get out of the house sometimes! Plus, hanging out and speaking English with a friend was spectacular. It was refreshing to speak like an adult…my bahasa is still pretty slow and child-like.

Yesterday (Tuesday), was pretty great, too. Hung out with the gurus at school and typed up the proposal for the English course, chatted with Travis, read Angela’s great new blog entry, checked out some sweet pictures of Emilee’s new tattoo and Mom’s 50th birthday party, posted those pictures from this weekend (I feel more sane now that I’m able to post pictures for you…it’s a relief to know that you can see at least some of what’s going on over here! It calms me down, somehow!), and…got mail for the first time since leaving Malang!! I got a big envelop from the States with two letters from my darling old folks and a package from Surabaya with tons of great stuff—another edition of the Azar grammar book, an English forum magazine, The Peace Corps Times (which sounds silly but seems like an awesome resource for community development project ideas), and the PC Indo newsletter. So, so, so lovely to receive mail. So lovely. In the afternoon, walked home with Bu Heri and taught her the phrase “holy moly,” which she enjoyed immensely, worked on my proposal for the World Map project at MAN Panekan, started typing this story, at some really delicious friend tempeh and bananas, took a nap, had a very refreshing mandi, then hung out and chatted with the various guests and family members who stopped by over the course of the evening, including Pak Tris, with whom I discussed the American economy, migrant workers, and outsourcing (in bahasa Indonesia—very broken, but still!!). An extremely productive day…and I didn’t have to eat my weight worth in rice to satisfy Ibu Mama, who seems to be getting accustomed to my foreign eating habits. Breathe a sigh of relief! Listen to Radiohead! Rejoice!

Now, it’s Wednesday morning—Bu Heri’s going to be here in a few minutes and I’ve yet to mandi but have already done laundry, washed dishes, eaten breakfast, had my coffee, and finished this story. Angela was absolutely right about the very high highs and the very low lows we experience as PCVs. The difference between me now, at this moment, and me three days ago, is astonishing. At least I’m on the high end, for now.

I love you.


*Wistful, huh? It’s interesting: I’ve never felt as American as I have in Indonesia, and not only because that’s how others identify me. Being the outsider and learning cultural differences by experiencing them sure reinforces how American I am…my personality, habits, quirks, work ethic, even my neuroses. I say something, think something, or do something wrong here or experience a cultural miscommunication and immediately realize that it’s because I’m American, culturally. Maybe it shouldn’t be news to me, but…I’m realizing that I’m more American than I thought I was when I was living back in the States. It’s like this: I wouldn’t say I’ve never hated on American culture. I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to understand how my culture has influenced who I am and how I can get beyond those influences and discover the true nature of myself. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to break down the structures of identity that are forced onto young American people and to live outside of them, developing my own ideals of success, happiness, beauty, faith, love, and family…to go beyond what’s been fed to me by American media, the public school system, and mainstream culture. I’m surprised, is all, by coming here and realizing that though I have come far in my search for an identity that isn’t necessarily completely derived from my nationality and its norms and mediocrities (because I believe that true identities and true selves are outside these things), there are aspects of myself that are absolutely American, and that will never change. I won’t say I’m not charmed by these realizations and I won’t say I haven’t been appreciating my country a little more than before I left. Maybe I’m getting homesick or just feeling nostalgic, but…I’ve been feeling very patriotic lately—unusual for me—because I’m realizing my country and my identity can and never will be fully separated. How much of patriotism is simply adoration of self, then, I wonder? I certainly love the parts of myself that challenges my surroundings and want to analyze and understand what’s going on around me, and if I hadn’t been raised in America, would I still have those impulses, or would they have been as fully developed? Having the opportunity to live the way I want to live and the freedom to identify however I please is one of the luxuries of being American (though our culture certainly tries its damndest to convince us its ideals are our own) and American subcultures thrive because they are relatively free to do so (though certainly not encouraged or acknowledged by the mainstream)…we’ve got a pretty sweet set-up over there, despite all the bullshit. To reclaim a phrase so popular with the military and fanatical types, freedom isn’t free—the price for us is the materialism, consumerism, and greed of a capitalist society, but the freedoms we maintain—by recognizing the things we can change, changing those things for ourselves and our communities, and enduring the less savory aspects of American culture that will never go away—are infinitely more precious. I guess it’s like this: I can put up with Starbucks, Paris Hilton, and advertising executives who spend their lives figuring out how to manipulate me if it means I don’t have to choose between getting married/having kids/cooking food for the rest of my life starting at age seventeen or facing the incessant wrath and daily ridicule of family, friends, and strangers for going to college, getting a job, and staying a single lady. There are pros and cons in every society and every nation, for every unique individual; for the moment, I’m happy identifying as an American…good news, since I’m really feelin’ it lately, what with living in Indonesia and all.

**Lyn, you may be reading this: really, everything’s fine. I’m being facetious (mostly).


Just a few photos

I wish I had time to write something up about these pictures; later tonight I will and I”ll try to post it tomorrow. Basically, they’re half from the school trip to Jogja this past Sunday and half from the preparations for the big party at my house on Saturday night. Enjoy!

Kites in the sky at the beach south of Jogja.

Beach south of Jogja.

Undur-undur, shrimpy little ocean-floor crawlers, deep fried. Yes, I ate one!

The students on my bus…they looked great in their uniform trip T-shirts.

Me and some of my favorite people outside the park in Jogja.

Waria performing at the park, Jogja.

Gettin’ ready for the big party.

Ladies makin’ satay ayam in the back area of my house.

That’s my host mother!

This is the mountain. I walked for approximately three minutes from my front door to take this picture!!

Over the Hill

Happy Birthday, Mom! Half a century. Great! Six months until Xmas, everybody!

Dear Andrea: I felt a little less insane after reading your post today. Makasih!

6/24 Getting’ ready for the party

So, we’ve been preparing for a party of 600 folks that’s supposed to take place, sadly, while I’m in Jogja with the students. Still, things are busy around the house, as you can imagine… have you ever thrown a house party for 600 people, all of whom must not only eat supper and drink drinks but also take a snack box home on the way out the door?

I tried to ascertain the purpose of the shindig but from the information I deciphered from a conversation with Ayah, who still can’t seem to quite understand that I’m not yet fluent and talks to me without a care in the world for dumbing down his bahasa, it’s simply a dinner party. Ibu Mama started getting ready two days ago (Tuesday) buy buying at least a pick-up truck’s worth of supplies, cardboard food boxes, crates of glass bottles of Fanta, giant sacks of peanuts, garlic, chilies, shallots, and beras (uncooked rice). I’ve been diligently attempting to help with the preparations, but I’m still not allowed to do much around this joint besides sit and look pretty* or rub skins off roasted peanuts, admittedly a more favorable endeavor than yesterday’s of Ibu Mama and her hired ladies to slaughter, pluck, gut, chop, and fry seventeen chickens—in the kitchen, at our house! Not too pleasant of a smell, raw freshly killed chickens…but delicious and worth it in the end. I’m completely satisfied with trading vegetarianism for kitchen killed in the morning and eaten for lunch (as yellow curry with scandalously spicy sambel).

Ayah and his hired dudes have been cleaning out the side rooms and otherwise preparing the house for the party. This may sound like a good idea but it has terrible repercussions for me; trash in Indonesia, if not thrown into a river, is burned. We’ve been burning piles of old junk and garbage in front of the house for two days. It reeks. Burning plastic…headaches. Just terrible. I feel like I’m going to faint and start floating away into space.

*I haven’t been allowed to do much of anything, really, just yet. I’m fairly sure the strictness of my host parents is caused by their old age any by the fact that I’m a lady. I have been, of course, privileged enough to take a couple of solo walks and bike rides. Managed to take and angkota (same as angkot) to Magetan this weekend, chaperoned. Later, I’m sure, I’ll be allowed to go places, but…for now it makes for much free time. I’ve already finished another book, actually, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe, from Jacob (thanks!), which I thoroughly enjoyed and which set off a spree of horror-film watching including The Shining and American Psycho (thanks, Noel!) during tidur siang, or naptime, which isn’t ever naptime for me. Basically, not yet having much to do is giving me lots of free time, which is okay, but only for so long, I’m sure. Here’s to hoping I’ll soon be able to convince Ibu Mama that I won’t get killed or kidnapped if I take the angkota the six kilometers to Magetan!

***Plans go awry!

It’s okay. Plans I have aren’t anything, really, compared to the plans of the folks at school. It’s their school! They know what they want! If I push for change or push my ‘agenda’ too quickly, we won’t accomplish anything.

Here’s what happened: Bu Heri, Pak Yazid, and I were to meet with the principal, Pak Noor, to discuss the proposed plan to start the English courses. Bu Heri and I had worked together to translate the flyer I had written and made sure it was polite enough by Indonesian standards.

We showed it to Pak Yazid first thing this morning, before the meeting with Pak Noor. He changed a couple of things, most notably the system of discipline/punishment for not attending class or arriving late; earlier, at the Saturday meeting, the teachers had described to me their problem with discipline and their desire to be more timely and devoted to school duties. I had written up a fairly harsh set of consequences for being late or absent (unexcusedly so)—my reasoning was, well, we’re all adults, so let’s not mess around—involving temporary suspension from the course for repeated infractions. Pak Yazid and Bu Heri politely requested we alter the hukuman (punishments) because my suggestions would make people’s hearts feel less…comfortable (there’s no easy way to translate that from Indonesian, something like hatinya guru-guru akan merasa kurang enak). They suggested a system of memorizing vocabulary words as a punishment for being tardy and a discussion and letter from Pak Noor for repeated absences.

These changes, on top of the change from having to simply tell me about a planned absence to having to give me a letter requesting permission for the absence, demonstrate a couple of things I’m starting to understand about the school culture at MAN Panekan (and, I suspect, about Indonesian culture in general). Firstly, the bureaucracy of Indonesian culture is more apparent than ever. We had heard about it and witnessed it a little bit in Malang but it’s becoming increasingly clear as I work with my school; letters and stamps, signatures and meetings, forms and formats, files and procedures for everything. This makes processes such as starting an English course extremely drawn out by American standards and processes like notifying someone of an upcoming absence very paper-worky (no big deal, of course, just an interesting cultural difference). Secondly, and I may be in danger of over-generalizing or disadvantageously extrapolating, but…it seems that Indonesian people, from what I’ve experienced, will do almost anything to prevent hurting someone else emotionally (hurting someone’s heart). I think, too, that this is why there is such a high standard of politeness here. I’m tempted to say there’s a greater respect for fellow humans though I know that’s definitely in the territory of (unfair (biased)) cultural comparisons.

After clearing things up with Pak Yazid and making those few minor changes, we went into Pak Noor’s office (To describe Pak Noor…cool cat is all I can say. Doesn’t have much in the way of teeth, sharp dresser, always wears a peci, has a tiny little wispy grey chin-beard. I won’t say he looks like he could be a sensei or a samurai master of some sort. That wouldn’t be very appropriate. At all. He’s absolutely hilarious, smart and real respectable. Always graciously asks if I’m feeling healthy. I’m a fan; contemplating saleeming him sometime soon. Hobbies include: sitting at his desk (directly in front of which mine is located), signing and stamping papers while chain smoking kretek cigarettes.) He was pretty stoked on the project but requested a more formal and complete proposal with an outlined curriculum. He also wanted us to figure out a way to incorporate the opportunity for all teachers in the district to be able to participate, not just teachers at MAN Panekan. Gah! I had a little stumble trying to explain that I wouldn’t be able to create and execute a course of that large a scope and suggested that it might be better if I taught the two classes we originally planned for and helped my counterparts from MAN Panekan teach the other courses (with the thought in mind that they would get practice running the course, practicing new teaching techniques, and easily continue offering the course after I leave). This seemed to go over well. However, instead of starting the courses next week, we’ve got to develop our proposal and figure out the curriculum before the start of school on July 12 (the first course class is scheduled for July 14).

If we start on time this time, the English course will start two weeks later than originally planned, but really, it’s okay. Taking time to plan things and start the project slowly will make everyone more comfortable and confident. I can be patient. I’m “In The Peace Corps,” whatever that means…sure doesn’t yet feel like I thought it would. Almost three weeks at site and over a hundred days in-country with no insurmountable issues…three weeks down, a hundred and one to go. Call me in six months?

Fun Facts: Ayah gets embarrassed when I tell him he looks handsome; Indonesians are surprised to think that I might want to and am capable of walking the 500 meters from school to my house all on my own; I can fall asleep with earplugs in; reading non-Indo PCVs’ blogs is a great delight and still makes me want to join the Peace Corps; dealing independently with the paranoias and existential crises with which I normally burden Old Dirty will probably be better for me in the long run though is proving to be more difficult than initially anticipated; the winds sounds like rain and the mountains look like clouds.

Thanks for the flowers

Diana’s blog has been outstanding lately (not that it wasn’t before, of course)! I’m going to try and make an effort to be as disciplined with my updates…the last post seems, upon review, rather scatter-brained, though this reflects my own state over the past few weeks. She’s able to do more than write about herself. Should I take a hint?

The past couple of uneventful days have been positive and enjoyable. I’m settling in here in my new home and community, which is a slow process. Things are working out well with my host family; Ayah is still great and Ibu Mama, yesterday, accepted my ‘rent’ money (not without another intervention from Bu Heri and Bu Tri), and she and I have been working on our communication. I think it helps that we’ve shared a few laughs, mostly about my inability to remember the correct pronunciation of a couple new vocabulary words. I’ve also realized that if I wake up half an hour early and chill out in my room before starting my day I’m a lot less grumpy; it’s outright unpleasant to be bombarded with greetings and questions about what I want to eat and why I haven’t yet made coffee immediately after opening my bedroom door.

School has been slow but still exciting. I’m getting to know the teachers, which is fantastic—they’re so funny, kind, and warmhearted. Students were released last week and we’ve been going to school everyday to get ready for next year, register new students, and, in my case, use the Internet as much as possible. I’ve been researching lots about TEFL theory/practice and graduate school/taking the GRE (which I’ll hopefully be able to do before the end of the year, in Jakarta). Trying to keep up with folks back home, too, via blogs and Facebook. I’m stunned but grateful that I have free wireless internet practically everyday…I don’t feel guilty (I’m happy about it almost more for my family’s sake than my own).

The past couple of days have been spent writing and translating a course description for the two English classes Bu Heri and I are creating for teachers in our school community. I’m very excited about the courses. We’ll be offering an “Advanced” and a “Regular” class—the former for English teachers or teachers of other subjects who have taught English in the past, the latter for all other teachers at the school—both of which will meet for one hour every week. Curriculum has yet to be developed but I’m planning to get the teachers involved in designing a course based on their specific needs and desires. They’re still excited beyond belief about practicing and learning English! I thought their interest would wane after a week or so of interacting with me, but everyone’s still trying to greet me in English when they can, say things to each other in English, and use bahasa gado-gado whenever possible. Diligence! Great!

I had an excellent afternoon a couple of days ago when a few little girls from the village came to my front porch and asked if I’d like to go on a walk. I was reading but practically threw my book down and jumped out of my chair. We walked down through the fields on the western side of the village, back toward the main road, up to the east through a neighborhood, and back home. The kids were so excited, almost as excited as me. We chatted a bit in English and Indonesian…I taught them a couple of new English words and they taught me some Javanese. We met a few folks along the way—there are still quite a few people who don’t know I’m here. They’re always surprised when I greet them in Javanese…my favorite is when older ladies say “Oh, Allah!” when they realize I can say the proper, polite greeting. I felt great about making a few new friends (the girls) and getting some more visibility in the village. Plus, walking down through the corn fields and rice paddies… down into the valley… and looking up at the mountain, in the late afternoon, is just incredible. It’s finally the dry (hot) season, so the skies have been crystal clear and blue lately…I am living in a place that’s much more beautiful than I could have imagined Indonesia to be before arriving here.

Cool and Fun with English

Apologies in advance for the delay in updates. Enjoy!


“Operasi Kuku”

My counterpart, Bu Heri, was handed a pair of nail clippers by the teacher from next door, who quietly whispered “Bu Heri, operasi kuku!” as she handed them over. Bu Heri looked at the students, thought for a moment (maybe about the fact that the kids were in the middle of their national biology and sociology exams), and walked to the first desk. The kids displayed their fingernails, and Bu Heri clipped them. She particularly struggled with the boys’ nails, which are normally grown much longer than the girls’, even girls’ in the States. The students were giggling nervously and trying to hide their hands. She clipped the nails just uncomfortably jagged enough that the students would have to clip them down at home, later in the afternoon. Operasi Kuku: Sukses.


Bought a bicycle today. It’s a gold and white cruiser with a huge basket in front. Definitely crappy compared to my old Schwinn, but I’m sure it’ll do. Sweet!

Riding through Turi for the first time was quite hilarious. As I rode, helmet and all, everyone stopped whatever they were doing and stared. I smiled, people smiled, kids waved and were freaked out; it was funny. I was grinning like a madman because it was the first time in more than three months that I had independent transportation other than jalan kaki (walking). Wheels!!

I had a mission from my host parents, Ibu Mama and Ayah, to go out into the village and find the kepala desa’s house (the head of the village, also known as Bapak Lurah). I rode down past some rice paddies until I met some ladies who were gardening; I asked them where Pak Lurah lived. They told me to backtrack and ask someone else a little further up the road, which I did. On the way to Pak Lurah’s house I heard my name being called from across the street; Bu Lurah (the wife of the kepala desa) was hanging out at a toko. We chatted; I told her I was out on the town looking for her house. She laughed, harassed me a little bit because I had rode by her once without stopping or even noticing she was there, introduced me to everyone, and sent me on my way, saying I could come over later. Maybe a quarter mile down the road from the toko I ran into Pak Lurah. He asked me to come over. He hopped on his motorcycle and I rode my bike behind him the 500 ft. to his house; Bu Lurah came home shortly after and had a good laugh.


Did I ever tell you about that time Andy and I made speeches in front of 200 uniformed Indonesian teachers, all from madrasahs in the greater Magetan area? With a microphone? On a stage? In bahasa Indonesia? And then held a bilingual Q&A session? For an hour? What about that time I spoke to all of the fifteen or so village officers and their wives in the kantor desa in Turi? In bahasa Indonesia, on the fly?
The great thing about these (admittedly surreal) events was that I wasn’t terribly nervous. Everybody’s so excited, American and Indonesian, that there’s no reason to be. We’re all so happy to be together and equally imperfect at speaking each other’s languages that there’s really nothing to worry about. Pelan-pelan.



I know that for the first few months here in Panekan I’ll have to focus on the small, daily successes and victories to prevent myself from unnecessarily worrying about whether I’m doing my job, whether I’m being a “good” volunteer, or whether I’m making a difference (or whether I am actually capable of making a difference or even differences should be made, or whether teaching English as a foreign language is an ethical endeavor, or whether the act of worrying about the potentially imperialistic nature of the Peace Corps is itself Orientalist or at least condescending because we’re responding to requests for assistance made by the free will of the government and people of Indonesia, people who are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what they’re needs are in terms of foreign assistance).

Anyways, small victories. Yesterday: Organized a meeting for the English teachers for next week at my house (and tomorrow I plan to invite the principal); went to rehearsal for the event on Tuesday…still not sure exactly what the event is, but I’ll be going dressed in Javanese traditional clothing and meeting-and-greeting on behalf of my Kapubaten (Magetan); remained patient with Ibu Mama.

Today, so far: rode my bike to school, unaccompanied, for the first time; showed the bahasa Indonesia counterpart/principal manual to a coworker who eagerly began to read and eventually asked to photocopy it for the entire staff (maybe folks will finally get a clearer explanation about why I’m here—my broken bahasa Indonesia has not been sufficient thus far); actively informed my host mom that I need to go to the post office, buy a new bag, and get some bug spray; had a great conversation about pronunciation, stress of syllables, and lesson planning with Pak Agus, one of the three English teachers at PAN Panekan; remained patient with Ibu Mama.

Ibu Mama has been told that my home stay is still considered by the Peace Corps as a “trial period.” The PC told the host families that if after three months we (the volunteers) want to move, we can. They told us that we could move after three months if there was a serious problem. Accordingly, my Ibu Mama, who has already told me that she’ll cry if I leave after three months, is bending over backwards to make me happy. I appreciate it, of course, but I don’t want her to go through so much trouble as she is.

I don’t want her to wash all of my dishes, prepare special meals, or do my laundry. I don’t want her to buy me new curtains and bed sheets, a new clothes rack, or special bread from a bakery in Madiun. I don’t want her to wait on me, or give me a special table for my food and utensils, or buy me new plates and bowls, or find me rides everywhere I go. I understand where she’s coming from but I feel terribly guilty. I haven’t even been able to convince her that I will, indeed, be paying a monthly “rent,” the first installment of which I would like to pay as soon as possible.

Of course it will take time for her to adjust to my presence…but I agree with Bart: I’m feeling more like a boarder (freeloader?) and less like a family member. I don’t think it would be as big of deal if I hadn’t just come from an almost entirely ideal set-up in Tlekung (though they always say that PST is a cake-walk compared to Service, capital S). It’s very difficult, starting over; I was just starting—etc.


I hope I haven’t seemed down lately. I suppose I have been—leaving my friends and family in Tlekung was very upsetting. Adjusting to a new situation is always stressful. Losing the everyday face-to-face support system I had in Malang is difficult; some of my friends back home know how loony I am and can imagine, I’m sure, the nature of the self-doubt I’m currently experiencing. It’s not true self-doubt, though… it’s mostly a feeling of helplessness or stagnancy because I’m starting over and the progress I made in Malang has little to no weight here in Turi, even my language ability (people have an incredibly hard time understanding my accent and “special” form of bahasa Indonesia whereas folks in Malang and Tlekung were accustomed to interacting and speaking with me; I also had a talk with Ayah about differences between Malang accents and Central Java / Magetan accents, which are apparently substantial).

School…I’m ready to start working…but I know that I can’t yet. I don’t know enough about the school, my students, the teachers, or the way things are done here—and everyone here knows too little about me—for us to work together and create anything lasting, as of now. That’s the thing, too: my goals are all irrelevant, really—I’m here to help the school and teachers achieve their own goals, which I haven’t discussed in depth with anyone yet.

Really, though… getting to know people is fun. Doing research and thinking about possibilities is even more fun. Watching everyone gawk as I ride my bike around town with a big stupid grin on my face is fun.

Plus, did I mention that my village is absolutely beautiful!? There are tons of rice paddies, fields and fields of corn and chili peppers, a huge mountain (Gunung Lawo) that’s even bigger than the one in Tlekung, and some amazingly vast, open fields with scattered palm trees, grazing goats, and minimal garbage—perfect for biking. I can’t wait until I’m allowed to walk in the early morning so I can go watch the sunrise (I miss my balcony in Tlekung!).

The folks here are great, too. The kepala desa and his wife are hilarious and they’re related to me (my host aunt and uncle), so I get to see them often. My co-workers at school are very excited to have me here. The Ibus that sell vegetables on the corner like saying hello to me in the mornings.

Fun Fact: Even though west East Java (Central Java) is supposedly more halus or sopan (polite) than the Malang/Batu area, men still fart. Real loud. In front of me. Even my darling old Ayah.


I’m 95% sure that my host parents will never accept my “rent” payments, which I receive monthly from the Peace Corps, directly deposited into my bank account here. I tried to broach the subject with Ibu Mama three times over the past few days, to no avail. I asked my counterpart and Bu Lurah for help explaining the situation to Ibu Mama, to no avail. I’m probably going to end up spending the money on goods for the house since she’s so far insisted on providing all of my food (and we’ve got a beras supply to last a year). I’ll definitely be able to afford some excellent batik for her and Ayah when I go to Jogja later this month.

Today: biked to my Bu Heri’s house and met her parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and children (she was shocked that I had biked the 2 km there all by myself; her husband insisted on following behind me on his motorcycle for my trip home, just in case I missed the one turn I had to take—unnecessary but very kind, rather charming, and certainly hilarious for lookers-on); helped my Ibu, Bu Lurah, and a couple of other ladies get ready for tomorrow’s shindig by stemming the most deliciously aromatic lemon basil plants ever; got a few good laughs from Ayah and his guests by shouting “SUGENG RAWO!” (welcome, selamat datang) to Pak Lurah as he walked up my porch…that’s boso Jowo kromo inggil, the high form of Javanese; proctored a national exam without the help of my counterpart and nobody cheated; got Ayah to talk about Dutch people in Indonesia—the Dutch burned down his grandmother’s house and tried to steal her jewelry but she scared them away…this led to a story about how his horribly hunchbacked and dilapidated tailor grandfather could thread a needle until the day he died, and another story about how back in the day, before motorcycles, he (Ayah) had to bike 18 km to school, on dirt roads; traded L2 alphabet recitations with the vice principal; stayed up until 9:00 pm without drinking my afternoon coffee.


I was not too thrilled with life this morning. I had some really strange dreams about the lake (as in Up At The Lake), Brady, high tides, inexplicably large populations of monitor lizards, tigers, and angry blondes with handguns roaming the woods of upper Mid-Michigan. Thanks, malaria meds.

Yesterday I had a bit of a stressful meeting with some of my teachers at school. Probably I was misinterpreting what was happening but it felt like an intervention. Bu Tri made it clear that her main agenda was to find out why I haven’t been teaching the English course for the teachers yet… like Andy. Gah! So it begins!

Of course, I wanted to start this week but couldn’t; I need to have an out-of-school formal meeting with the English teachers and some of the other staff to solidify that we’re on the same page and to discuss my goals and theirs, but when I tried to schedule it early last week, everybody said they were unavailable until next Saturday (now tomorrow). So, though it was later than I’d have liked, I agreed to the Saturday meeting time…then was gently nudged by the teachers to get going, though the meeting hasn’t yet happened (and there’s not been any time at school to get everyone together in the same spot and discuss things); I can’t do things on my own, nor do I want to.* Just trying to open communication… I need to make sure that the school knows I’m not here to work for them but with them, which I feel, as of now, is an idea that is not yet fully understood, i.e. it’s my vision to help the English teachers at the school develop and execute an English course for the other teachers, not teach one solo (though that’s definitely an admiral and brave venture—props, Andy!). Also, they wanted me to create a schedule for Friday, the last day of school, for everybody, all by myself! That’s not how it works!! Explaining that my purpose is not to enter the school and immediately identify and fix problems but to help the teachers identify and find solutions to problems was also a difficult task (my counterpart was in another meeting and we didn’t have a translator). So anyways… I got worked up after the meeting and felt like people were mad at me or worried that I wasn’t going to do my duties….gah. Typical Sam paranoia.

I chatted with Bu Lurah about it later yesterday evening and she confirmed that taking things slowly is much better and agreed that I still need time to adapt to the new situation and study the school culture. She helped me calm down, a lot. She’s great. Whew. Thank goodness!

So, though I felt a little worried that the teachers and I were having a miscommunication I was still excited to go to school this morning to watch Pak Agus teach a remedial English class scheduled for 7:00 am. Remedial classes were supposed to be held from 7:00 am to noon…really, I was excited to see lots of different teachers in the classroom. However, after Pak Agus finished his class, I was asked to have a “dialogue” with the students on the lawn, not directed to the location of the next remedial course open for observation. As it turns out, students who aren’t scheduled to take remedial classes are still required to attend school…and today they didn’t have anything to do.

I agreed to run the “dialogue” but only after a few minutes of negotiation. Of course, I want to get to know the kids and I want them to get to know me, but they hardly understand what I’m saying because they’re not used to my American accent; I explained that if I was to teach or make a dialogue or whatever, I’d have to do it inside, where I’d have whiteboard access. Pak Yazid said that would work and proceeded to split the entire student body up into five groups, to be sent to my classroom one at a time. The others would wait in the courtyard…with nothing to do. Sigh. Nobody had planned anything for the day other than “Let’s have Samantha run dialogues.” It’s great, but…what if I had declined? What if I had gotten sick this morning? There was no back-up plan, nothing for the kids to do.

Luckily, the “dialogues” turned out to be fantastic. I had alternating groups of boys and girls, about 40 students per group. On the fly, during the first “dialogue,” I decided to do the questionnaire we had developed in Malang; asking them to just chat with me wasn’t working—they were far too shy. During the questionnaire, Bu Heri helped with some of the translating. We got to practice reading, listening, writing, and speaking (a little bit), plus the students had the chance to ask me all sorts of questions (Are you single? What do you like about MAN Panekan? What’s your favorite food? When’s your birthday? What are the names of your parents? Do you have a boyfriend? What is beautiful about America? Are you following the World Cup? Etc.) and interact with me. It wasn’t a planned lesson by any means but it turned out to be interactive, informative (especially for me—they know much more English than I thought, they’re just very, very reticent in fear of making mistakes).

Afterward the students and I did our bit, which lasted about 45 minutes, Bu Tri or Bu Heri explained a little bit about the Peace Corps and why I ride a bike (and wear a helmet). I took a few final questions and sent the kids on their way. Some of the kids saleemed me as they were leaving—both boys and girls. That was pretty crazy: I’m still not sure how to react. I do know, at least, that the kids did it voluntarily and with big smiles on their faces.

At the end of the last “dialogue,” Bu Heri and Bu Tri were in tears. They told me how wonderful my teaching was and said they hoped to Allah they can learn how to teach. I tried to say that I couldn’t have done it without their help, but I’m not sure if they heard me. I don’t really know what to say… it was fairly distressing for a variety of reasons, most of which I’m still figuring out but will certainly try to write a little bit about later…lots of the discomfort stems from the fact that many of the teachers at my school have idolized whatever American model of teaching they’ve seen or heard of (or concocted?) and seem to want me to transform their school into an American school because, they seem to think, that’s the only way to succeed as highly as Americans—a very weird situation that’s still being processed inside my puny brain (thanks Noel and Bart for being so supportive).

Overall, it’s been a whirlwind couple of days. I’m looking forward to finishing up the week on Saturday with the circumcision party for the head of the Department of Agama’s teenage son directly followed by the teachers’ meeting at my house.

Fun Fact: Diana’s blog is stellar and her most recent entry contains an absolutely amazing description of the pasar tradisional or traditional market (though I disagree with some of her sentiments about the meats) as well as info about the Madrasah uniform culture. Check it out at (Uniforms are almost the same at my school, except instead of an all white W/Th, my kids have lime green plaid tops and forest green bottoms…and the girls have “MAN Panekan” embroidered on their jilbabs!). Diana, I’m so glad you are happy in Tuban!

Today: made a neat “Meet Miss Martin” poster for the students (and teachers) at my school by printing photos in the computer lab and gluing them to some horribly gaudy (totally rad) rainbow construction paper. I can’t wait to hang it up tomorrow; paid the school back for my bike; talked to Ayah about the “rent” payments and, now that I’ve demonstrated my ability to withdraw funds from an ATM, I’m fairly sure my host parents will accept the cash; almost finished my site locator form; washed, dried, and ironed my laundry (all in one day!! We’ve got an electric clothes spinner. Score!).

*Not in any way trained, certified, or experienced in the teaching of English as a foreign language (though I can design activities like nobody’s business; once again, however, “activities” do not equal “teaching”).


I love birthday surprises, even teeny tiny ones. A couple students, teachers, and I surprised Andy at his school today. We sang. I gave Andy a pack of Emergen-C. Basically, a great time. Happy Birthday Andy!

Today: Met some neighborhood kids during a walk about the village, including some students of one of the two state elementary schools (sekolah dasar, SD) in Turi…amusingly, the kids already knew my name, where I’m from, and what I’m doing here; was flagged down during my walk by a lady I didn’t realize was one of my many host aunts—she invited me into her house wherein I met my host grandmother (90+ years old, precise age unknown! Possibly the tiniest little old lady I have met in my whole life!) and another host aunt; wrote a questionnaire for the teachers’ meeting tomorrow, including my goals/needs/ideas for my school; finished the utterly awful but sufficiently distracting Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (I’m only three months in but I can tell that my tolerance for terrible fiction has already increased substantially); took a mandi before it got dark outside; decided that the cockroach that lives in my desk is a friend, not an enemy…but only because I know it’s never going to leave and I’d rather not freak out every time I see it.

I had a very interesting fruit for breakfast today. It was very similar to kiwi but brown and with just a few big seeds. It tasted like maple sugar. Sweet maple kiwi! Great! For lunch I ate the best curry I’ve ever had, hands down, ever, ever, ever…cooked by the one and only Ibu Mama. It even beat the yellow curry at Little Tibet. Don’t worry, I’ll get the recipe!

Fun Facts: Indonesian cucumbers are extraordinarily delicious and Dylan was right about Reverend Gary Davis.


5 June 2010

Thanks to Andy for the Vampire Weekend. I didn’t realize I already knew and liked them.

Wow… what an overwhelming past few days. I’m barely resisting putting on a movie and zoning out, but I know my faithful readership is waiting to read about whether I’m officially insane or still hanging on. The answer is: probably both. I could use some more caffeine.

What was happening when last I wrote? I’ve no idea since I don’t have internet. I can’t remember the last time I did. I can’t believe it’s June 5th already. Earlier I had to ask the teachers at my school what day of the week it is today (Sabtu).

Before I start the blogging proper, a little message for Bapak Obama: Please stop leading us on!! Love, Scott. I mean…Love, Sam. PS: Thanks a lot to whoever spilled all that oil.

Wednesday we met with our school representatives at UMM; at least one person from all nineteen schools came to meet with each volunteer. We did some getting-to-know-you activities and a few very interesting cultural activities. My principal is currently in Singapore but the chemistry teacher of my school (who also functions as one of the two vice principals) was there to meet with me. She’s great! We hit it off well and talked a lot about what kinds of fruits can be bought in the Magetan area. She had (still has, really) a hard time understanding my accent so we couldn’t talk about many abstract concepts related to teaching and the character of the school in my community, etc. Not a big deal, though, since everything is better learned through experience, i.e. going to school and not worrying about much until I get there and start teaching.

Okay. Our swearing in ceremony on Thursday was great. All nineteen of us took the oath with the US Ambassador to Indonesia at the office in my village, had a big ceremony at UMM wherein we met lots of people and heard lots of great speeches (Scott and Sara gave speeches in bahasa Indonesia that were amazingly heartwarming), and ate some delicious food with our families and friends. Team Tlekung looked way better and were way more popular than any of the other villages because we had matching batik shirts. Everyone else was absolutely jelek in comparison.

My host mom met the representative from my school and made sure to tell her that I like coffee, spicy food, and eating with my hand.

Before we left, Scotty got me hooked up with a live phone-interview with a national radio station (Mbak: “Scott, can we interview you live on national radio?” Scott: “No, but here’s my friend Sam! She’ll be great!”). I was real sweaty but I think I did a decent job. The DJs asked me questions about the Peace Corps, why I wanted to join, what my jobs were back in the US, what I thought of Indonesia, and how students can improve their English skills. It was all in bahasa Indonesia, live, on national radio. Sweet! Potentially informative for Indonesians! Definitely good practice for me! And now I’ve got all the bragging rights! (Read: I’m the only one in the group who can confidently say that the majority of Indonesians probably think I’m an imbecile.)

After the interview and getting some paperwork from staff, we volunteers began saying our goodbyes and it was sad. I won’t see anyone (except Andy) until September for In-Service Training. Jack and Rebecca, our training leaders, will be back in America by the end of the month. I cried as soon as I got my first hug, from Luke. After lots of hugs, kisses, tears, and a few awkward realizations that a couple of people had left before I could say goodbye to them, the goodbyes were over. Everybody left except Team Tlekung, and then everyone from Tlekung left except me.

I headed to the photo printing toko with Mbak Ika to print a photo of the activities at the elementary school to give to the principal and staff there as a thank-you gift. I also had a picture of my host parents and me printed to leave at my house. After a bowl of es buah with Mbak Ika, Susi, Ananda, and Mas Yonas in the UMM Peace Corps office, I made my way back to Tlekung to stop by my place and Diana’s before heading to Erika’s to say goodbye to her host family. Noel met us there, as did Bart, who gave us the advice that his host father had given him: we should go to each of the host families as a group and say our formal goodbyes.

We went back to Bart’s first; his host dad, Pak Sri Harto was amazingly kind and eloquent. He said that the day after we left would be overshadowed by a feeling of lacking or absence; that if there were any problems they had already vanished from his memory and nothing but warm feelings remained; and that we should continue on, take up the good, and throw away the bad. His host mother sat quietly and cried, as did we.

After leaving the Hartos we stopped at Noel’s. Her mom, the head of the village, was wonderful. She was extremely gracious and warm, just as she had always been since we arrived. Both Pak Sri Harto and Bu Eni both had the same poignant farewell: you’re going to be missed, you’re the children of Tlekung, our doors are always open to all of you, and if we made any mistakes, please forgive us. That’s the parting mantra: If I had many problems, I ask forgiveness. Kalau saya punya banyak masalah, saya mohon maaf. We asked forgiveness, too, for our mistakes.

The kicker was the saleeming (a saleem is bending over and lifting of the back of the hand of a revered person to your cheek or forehead). So far, we volunteers aren’t in the habit of saleeming. I think the saleem is a sign of deference and submission (obedience?) that we, as Americans, are uncomfortable with because we’re brought up to be proud almost to the point of arrogance and filial piety is so much more present—or at least expressed—in Indonesian culture than in American. I’d get sad when the host parents would say their farewells, I’d stop crying and we’d say ours, then we’d get up to leave and as soon as the first person in line saleemed one of the host parents I’d burst into tears again. Until now, I’d only ever done the saleem when I thought someone expected it or if I felt it was a polite gesture to make; it was amazing to demonstrate our appreciation and perform the saleem meaningfully, not just to please someone or “out of respect for the culture.” I saleemed all of the host parents and I meant it; I think my friends would say the same. I don’t know if any of the host family members realized it was extraordinary for us. Maybe they did since we don’t normally do it and they know it’s not part of American culture. No matter how the host parents interpreted the small gesture, it was powerful for me; I hope that the saleem expressed what my meager Indonesian vocabulary—which was reduced to dribbling terima kasihs—could not. I’m humbled by the amount of help and love we received in Tlekung just because we wanted…what? To learn? To live? To study? To serve? I’m still not sure, but I know I’ll always have family there. Maybe our purpose was simply to become family…to build relationships that will help sustain us through our time in Indonesia and help us maintain ties to this country after we’ve left it.

We slowly made our way back to Diana’s and finally to my house. Since my house was last, I was the first one to say goodbye to the group. It was sad, sure, but the sadness was heightened because of the farewells to the families. I don’t mean to diminish the sadness I felt for leaving my American friends, but I’ll see them again plenty, hopefully over the course of forever. The saddest fact is that we’ll never live together again as we did in Tlekung…together as five American friends but more importantly together with our Indonesian friends and families. Plus…by saying goodbye to Tlekung we were saying hello to our uncertain futures: the unknowns that accompany starting Peace Corps service and becoming Volunteers. We all realized that we wouldn’t be nearly as prepared for this uncertainty if it weren’t for the kindness, patience, generosity, and love we experienced from the people of Tlekung or for the friendship and camaraderie we found in each other.

The next day (still yesterday?!) was also emotional. I woke up and finished packing before dressing to meet my new host family. I ate breakfast at the green house with my host parents (my mother had made my favorite meal of nasi pecel and mendol since it was my last day) and said goodbye to a few of my friends who had gathered there, Ibu Tin, Ibu Atimah, and Edo, plus my host sister Sinta. We three, my parents and I, left for the main house to get in the car, but my friends followed us up the street. My four adik-adik were at the house and the neighbors had come outside; Diana had come over, too. The kids loaded my stuff into the car before I realized what was happening. We snapped a few photos, I tearfully asked everyone for their forgiveness, and said goodbye to Diana. Hopped in the car with my host parents and that was that. Basically terrible.

We drove to Malang to the hotel where my school representative, Ibu Triani, was staying. We met up with her in the parking lot after taking a few final pictures. Mbak Ika had texted me to meet up before I left and she showed up in the parking lot as Ibu Triani came out of the hotel. Mbak Ika and I hugged and cried. My host mother and I hugged and cried. My host dad got a little teary. I saleemed. Then, I hopped into the car headed to my new village…my luggage had magically transferred vehicles and I was now in the hands of Ibu Triani, Ibu Hani (another teacher), my counterpart Pak Agus, and our driver (saya lupa namannya). Sara had arrived while I was getting into the car; both of us were crying but managed to wave goodbye. Of course, it was a bittersweet parting. I was happy to meet my new friends but sad to leave my family in Malang, both Indonesian and American (and Polish).

The happiness of the party from my village helped me quickly recover my composure and regain my excitement about moving to my new site. We stopped in Batu and the teachers bought me an orchid and a leafy hanging plant for my bedroom as a thank-you for coming to their school. Absolutely wonderful and kind! We also stopped at a market outside Batu and picked up some fruits to eat on the way (the remainder of which ended up getting left with me at my new homestay). The car didn’t have air conditioning but I was so exhausted from the past twenty-four hours that I managed to sleep for a good part of the five hour drive to the Magetan area. We stopped for lunch and I got my other favorite meal: gado-gado and es dawet (vegetables and egg with steamed beras and peanut sauce and cold sweet fermented something-or-other). We stopped, too, in the alun-alun (town square) of Madiun so that the men could pray at the mosque nearby (Fridays are special days for Muslim men, though I haven’t yet looked up or figured out why…should have asked Diana).

Arriving in Panekan, my new village, was an extremely special moment. Though I haven’t yet seen much of the village proper, the scenery surrounding it is beautiful and mountainous, similar to Tlekung (thank goodness; the higher, the cooler!). We stopped at the police station and informed them of my presence and intention here, a requirement under Indonesian law for anyone staying anywhere for more than a few days. Next, we drove by the school compound. It was locked but I got to have a look through the gate. The campus is gorgeous. After leaving school we drove to meet my new host family, who live only about a half a mile away from the school.

Lucky for me, being extremely hot and with a minor headache after the long journey, there was a huge and important group of people awaiting me at my new home. Straightaway I met the kepala desa and a few other village officials, my host parents, and many of the school staff members and teachers. We sat in my family’s living room and had snacks and water before the meeting started. One of the teachers, one of the village officials, and the kepala desa all made small speeches. The messages were wonderful but pretty overwhelming: we are so happy to welcome you here, we are extremely honored to have you with us, thank you for coming, we want to ensure you a happy and safe stay here, and you are our very, very special and honored guest. Luckily, I was asked to say a little something, too; normally I would have been nervous, but I felt so warmly welcomed and so fortunate to be here that I was easily able to express my feelings. I said, in bahasa Indonesia, that I was equally happy and honored to be here and that I hoped soon I could become a friend, not just a special guest. The overwhelming and immediate response to that comment was basically this: you’re already family. The kepala desa also made a point of saying that his foremost concern was my safety here. So, Mom, don’t worry. We all ate delicious soto ayam together before everyone went home…I needed a nap.

After waking up I got to spend a little time with my host family. My host mother, Ibu Mama (Ibu Tin, really…she wants me to call her “Mama” but all I’ve managed so far is “Ibu Mama”), is a retired teacher who currently runs a salon. She’s the older sister of the kepala desa. My host father, Pak Yulo, is the kepala dukuh (a dukuh is a subdistrict of a desa that’s larger than an RW). He’s related to the governor of East Java, whom I’ll hopefully get to meet, which would be a big deal considering it was a big deal that a representative from the governor’s office spoke at our swearing in ceremony. Their house (my house!) is a lot larger than my house in Tlekung but quite a bit more rustic. The toilet is tiny; I’ll have to re-learn how to use the squatty potty because the space between the wall and the other wall is only just over two feet. We don’t have hot bathwater unless it’s boiled on the stove but we do have a washing machine. My new bedroom is tiny but I’ve got a box spring and the softest pillows ever. Plus, a fan. Plus, a wardrobe with hangers. Plus, my room is pleasantly lizard-free.* Plus, we’ve got chickens. Fat ones! And fish! Also fat!

So far, relations with my new host family are good. They’re both hilarious. My host dad is sweet as can be and my host mother is worried sick about how to keep me happy (which I don’t necessarily like, but I’d rather she be worried than ambivalent). Ibu Mama wants desperately for me to tell her what I like to eat but I just want her to make what she likes to cook—we’ve almost had a problem over this. I finally just told her a few things but tried to express that I still haven’t tried everything and want to try her cooking, too. Host dad keeps telling me I’m free to do anything I like. They’re absolutely great. So far, I can tell this much: Pak’s hobbies are sweeping, hammering, putting on nice clothes, and making jokes. Ibu Mama’s hobbies are chatting, cooking, and trying to feed me.

I haven’t been too stressed about making tons of conversation or spending every waking minute with my new host parents, to my relief. I expected to feel more awkward or at least more anxious about making a good first impression and being super polite. Of course, I’m being polite and behaving properly, but…it’s different. I have the feeling that my host family and I are on the same page: we’ve got two years together. There’s no need to rush anything. I’m not going to go out of my way if it makes me uncomfortable because everything will come with time. It’s a nice feeling…and I think they feel the same. I think, too, that my host mother is still getting used to my accent, so she doesn’t like to have huge conversations with me because she has a hard time (she’s 60). But she’s already hugged me numerous times, so.** Hooray!

I got to go to school today, too. My school is so beautiful! It’s small and the student population is just a few hundred. There are, if I remember correctly, 48 teachers there, including me. Scheduling is different here… students are in class from seven in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon, with extra-curricular activities until about four and teachers teach 10-20 hours per week. My counterpart is sweet and so are the other English teachers (and all the teachers!). I’m looking forward to working with the faculty. So far, the madrasah doesn’t seem much different from the MoNE schools I worked in (in Batu and Malang), though I haven’t seen any classes yet because students are preparing for testing next week.

My school seems unique from others I’ve seen because it has a separate campus for Class XI (Kelas II, 11th grade). The second campus is a converted parts and recreations compound. The first campus has two floors and is open-air (no hallways, just go outside to go to a different room). There’s a teachers’ room on each campus which means I have two desks. I may have already mentioned it, but teachers rotate classrooms here; I don’t have a classroom proper like I would in the States.

The students and staff put on a little welcoming ceremony for me today. Everyone gathered in the courtyard and sang Indonesia Raya before it started. First, one of the teachers made a brief welcoming speech… it was great, basically welcoming me to the MAN (Madrasah Aliyah Negeri) family there. Then one of the students gave a speech welcoming “Mister Samantha,” which was adorable and actually not the first time I’ve been called that here. Thirdly, I gave a speech with the help of my counterpart, who translated (though I tried to speak a little bahasa Indonesia). I said it was my honor to be here, that my purpose in Indonesia is to work for the school and help the students and teachers, that we would have to be patient with one another because we come from different cultures, that taking time to get comfortable with one another is perfectly okay but they shouldn’t be scared of me (Indonesian kids are very, very shy), and that I am, of course, extremely happy to be here. Lovely! I then hung out with the teachers, took a tour of the school (which has a computer and language lab), got copies of the textbooks, and got my schedule for next week. I’ll be proctoring exams for a few hours each day, except for Monday, when Andy and I get to make speeches in bahasa Indonesia in Magetan… in front of all of the teachers in the area. I’ve heard that’s upwards of 400 people. I already addressed the whole country on live radio, so no big? Gulp.

Now I’m gonna go watch some TV before Ibu Tri(ani) gets here to chat, wait for Andy’s phone call wherein I should get more details about Monday, and wait for dad to get home with dinner: chicken satay. So far, so good. Day one of Being A Peace Corps Volunteer is almost complete. Hiduplah Indonesia Raya


PS: Address…

PPS: What’s up with you?

*Did I ever tell you about the serious lizard shit problem I had in Tlekung? Well, I had this lizard shit problem. They liked to buang air besar all over. Everything.

**And grabbed my butt twice as many times as that! A true sign of affection! We already learned in Tlekung that if you’re an old lady you’ve got free reign to grab anyone’s butt (or chest, or anything) whenever you want. Still holds true in this neck of the woods. I’m willing to bet it’s an Indonesian thing. The first time I was groped by a grandma here was when Noel’s host grandmother (the mother of the head of Tlekung) grabbed my chest and said, “Besar, besar!!” or “Big, big!!” It’s true, Nenek. Thank you. Gah!

6.6.2010 Trouble in Turi

Host mom and I had a breakdown of communication this morning. I’ve been worried that I’ve been offending her by not eating…yesterday evening she talked to some of the teachers and from what I can tell asked them to find out what kinds of foods I like. She’s been assuming that the reason I don’t eat “enough” is because I don’t like the food she’s serving, which isn’t true. Rice just sits differently in my stomach and I can’t eat very much of it! I tried repeatedly to explain to her that I don’t need to eat as much as she expects me to eat. Of course, she’s trying to make me happy and healthy…though she also said she wanted to make me fat because then I would be even more beautiful than I am now!

Anyways, I was frustrated this morning because I was scheduled to go with my teacher friend Ibu Hanik to buy fabric for my school uniforms (uh-huh, polyester, here I come) and Ibu Mama asked me if it was okay if she didn’t go. I realize now my unreasonableness but I immediately became upset (on the verge of tears) because I thought she didn’t want to come because she wanted to hand me off and get a break. Really, she just hadn’t mandi’ed yet. Still, I got upset and sat down on the couch with Bu Hanik, who told me we’d leave in a couple of minutes to buy fabric and also to meet the principal of the madrasah, who came back from Singapore earlier this morning. This really pushed me over the edge because I hadn’t washed my hair…my shampoo ran out back in Tlekung and I haven’t bought any yet here, though Ibu Mama knows I need to. To make a long story short, I wasn’t given the information about meeting the principal early enough to be able to do anything resembling making myself presentable, which naturally made me upset.

So, I started crying, as I tend to do when upset. Of course, the situation was completely blown out of proportion on my part, but it’s a very sensitive time, for all of the volunteers, I’m sure; we’re starting back from square one with new families who want to stuff us with delicious (sometimes less than healthy) foods and drinks and do everything for us including washing our underwear, which is terribly kind, but…my family unit in Tlekung was already functioning well after struggling quite a bit in the beginning, but now we’re not living together anymore. Back to basics, except now I can squat and speak a few words of bahasa.

Basically the whole thing ended in my mother and I having a heart to heart about how much we like one another and want to be family. She saleemed me and I was fairly mortified (it’s extremely rare for older people to saleem younger people; I was probably as mortified as Mas Teguh was when Colleen saleemed him after the language test in Malang).

Later we had a conversation about language and misunderstandings. I asked her to speak slowly and use simple language (she’s been speaking normally and I can understand maybe 75% of it, but it’s exhausting). I tried to make it clear that I’m still studying and that I can understand more than I can speak, but I’m still not fluent. She acquiesced and since then has been speaking more slowly and enunciating enough for me to understand quite a bit more. I also explained how I may stop her and look for something in the dictionary, which didn’t seem to bother her.

She went out to buy rice and came back so we could all three eat together. Normally, Indonesian mothers tell you at least three times to eat up or take more; during dinner tonight, Ibu Mama told me at least three times that if I don’t finish, it’s no problem. I feel pretty proud of myself.

We just had another conversation about laundry…she really wants to do my laundry for me, which simply isn’t necessary. I’m fairly sure I convinced her to let me do it. I told her I like to do it and I want to study washing clothes by hand. We’ll see how long that lasts.


Fun Facts: talked to Ibu for a bit on the phone today (Ibu from Tlekung…my only Ibu); finally roughin’ it with the cold mandis but it’s not so bad; dreamt about Roadworthy, Rick, and banjoes last night (Roadworthy had also started selling shoes); met Andy’s family and saw his “village” earlier this afternoon; Magetan and Madiun are famous for leather goods, fermented potato something-or-other called brem that’s kind of like a sour and chalky chocolate bar, nasi pecel, and gigantic oranges (as big as your head, honestly); riding around Indonesia in cars that don’t have AC is a very sweaty activity; everything’s gonna be alright.