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.


2 thoughts on “Over the Hill”

  1. it was so excellent to talk to you the other night and to see your surroundings! i love your philosophy and your original and logical way of seeing the world and the events therein. love you big time!


  2. Thanks for the honor of titling this blog enrty to me honey. It was a perfect day and turning fifty is remarkable! I have such a great visual of “the Cool Cat”.


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