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.


4 thoughts on “Moving”

  1. Sam, I just want to reiterate how much I love your blog! I am passing this onto my friends and family as a substitute for my lack of updating my own blog.


  2. Hi Honey,
    This is the best blog so far… I teared up five times this time. It is very wonderful to read. I love you and miss you so very much and can not even express how proud I am to be your mom. From afar I am imagining saleeming you!


  3. Great post Sami! I really enjoyed reading it and I am glad you are safe. Learn lots of stuff. You are doing something that is really cool, really important, really helpful and you will always be the better for having experienced life this way. Your students and contacts will also be the better for having known you too. Go forth and do great things while feeling secure in the knowledge that both your mom and I are so very proud of you. Take care. My best always to you. Love, Steppy.


  4. Sami,
    I love you and miss you! This blog about your new site makes me really want to see you. And I loved it when you texted me when you were having coffee with your new Pak! Hugs and smiles and I wish we could go hiking again soon.


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