Shark Shake for Youth and Dental Hygiene

7.25

I don’t much want to talk about Indonesia at the moment. Everything is going well enough. I have few complaints but my brain needs a break from the onslaught; six days in a row of school is tougher than I thought it would be, and extracurricular activities haven’t even started (once they start it’s two more hours of teaching per day for me). It’s Sunday today, so I’m going to sit around, watch movies, and eat delicious food until later this afternoon, when I’ve got a date with my tiny friends and then a trip to Bu Heri’s to write lesson plans.

Now I’m sitting here thinking about what I’d like to write about and all I can think of is interesting stuff about Indonesia that I should share with you.

Ramadan is starting soon. Here’s what the Indonesian PC staff wrote about the fasting month in our latest newsletter:

“Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sun-up to sun-down.  It is not compulsory for non-Muslim Indonesians to fast, but it is considered respectful to not eat or drink in front of fasting friends or colleagues. Sexual contact, being angry, gossiping, cursing (in any language!), and smoking is also forbidden/frowned upon during the day. Why [do Muslims fast during Ramadan]? The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also allows Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity. Fasting is meant to teach the Muslim patience, modesty and spirituality. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.”

Ramadan starts on August 10 and lasts through September 9, and then it’s week-long Idul Fitri, the biggest celebration during the Islamic year. I’m very excited to learn more about Ramadan and Idul Fitri and see what it’s like in my town during this special time of year, though I’m not much looking forward to teaching. We’ll be having shortened school days and the kids, from what I’ve heard, will be nearly non-functional because they’ll be so tired and hungry—they’ll be fasting and waking up before sunrise to eat and pray and staying up late into the night to eat and celebrate. Still, they’re required to go to school, and teachers have said we should plan low-energy, easy activities. I’ll probably be tired, as well, since I’m going to try to fast, too. I’m anticipating that my sleep and eating schedule will be dramatically altered by the fasting month even if I don’t participate, so there’s no sense in eating during the day only to be too full to eat during the special evening and early morning mealtimes. I’ll definitely drink water in private, though, since I’m all foreign and hot and such.

7.26 The Cool Goddess

My life here is certainly interesting, educational, and thought-provoking but less Exciting than I’d imagined. I’ve got a job; the adventure’s going to be a slow burn and will probably materialize in less tangible ways than I’ve anticipated thus far. Maybe when I get out of our three months of PC house arrest, I’ll have some more palpably exciting times. Subtlety is great and I’m all for the adventure of relationships, language learning, developing as a teacher, and living in and learning about a culture that’s foreign to me, but the tantalizing dreams of traveling the world and big fantasies about what sorts of eye-widening escapades could accompany moving to another country—one that’s on the other side of the world—that overtook my mind and spirit before leaving the US have only been partially realized, making me simultaneously still as excited as before to begin The Adventures and slightly disappointed at my current inability to flit about. I suppose I’m scared of the doldrums of (once again) having a full-time teaching job—while exciting and rewarding in big ways, teaching is definitely a grind and a challenge, probably no matter where you’re teaching. Plus, I’ve got a schedule that’s blocked out six days a week from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon and I’m beginning to get a sense of Routine after two months at site, and you can imagine how I feel about that. I’m a slave to the wanderlust living in a spectacular part of the world and I’m all but forbidden to travel though my few spare dollars could afford some assumedly mind-blowing trips; alas, I’m not allowed to sleep outside of my homestay until early September.* Seems to me that the Peace Corps isn’t about anything but teaching Americans how to be as patient as normal humans. Am I being short-sighted in valuing travel for travel’s sake so highly? I’m not missing the point of being in a volunteer, mind you, I’m just commenting on the personal stuff…the perks, I guess?

These new feelings of anxiety and semi-stagnancy in the physical sense could be the result of settling down from all the upheaval of the past five months. After all, I did travel to Indonesia after popping into Japan and spending the night in Thailand, not to mention the fun couple of days I spent in California and my strange and fantastic reunions in Michigan. I had an electrifying reality check by allowing myself tremendous success in the realization of the first stages of doing something that has, for some reason, always been one of The Goals. It could also be that I’m freaking out about what’s to come next. I’m always looking forward, for better or for worse, and I don’t exactly know what the other Goals are. This is slightly unnerving. Whatever the case, the regression to an almost childlike state of wide-eyed wonder and glee I experienced during the first few months of this thing is wearing down. I think PC folks like to say “the honeymoon’s over.”

I don’t, however, think this is all bad. I’m feeling more like myself, in my head space. I don’t like the giddiness and emotionality of the little girl in me, that hectic maniac that was starting to get the best of me. She’s too much sunshine, I think, for people to handle, at least for me, anyways. It’s embarrassing. I like having a childish side and I appreciate the romanticism of my heart though I sometimes feel self-conscious about my excitability and exuberance; I realize that all these negative feelings should be broken down and cast off, but there are always cobwebs in the corners, no matter how clean the room. Right? Anyways, I think that crazy little child has worn herself out and is ready for a nap, one that will hopefully last until the next big adventure. I like the (perceived) temperance and rationality of my ego and appreciate the appearance of the wild child every now and then, but it’s been a while now since this thing started and the “I” that I currently am needs a break.

With the return of the rationality comes a beautiful restraint that allows me to appreciate those fleeting run-ins with the sublime, undoubtedly preferable to constant head-on collisions. Sweet things are sweeter, I’m less exhausted, and I’ve stopped worrying about whether my entire system for interacting with and seeing the world should be reconstructed. Let’s here it for 23 more months of steadying seas and settling leaves.

*The homestay house arrest is a good thing because people like me would be off in a jiff to adventure around Java, potentially disrupting my integration into this community and my relationship building with my host family. I’d never intentionally do anything to harm my integration here, but I could see myself using the privilege to travel as an escape from problems at site that should be faced instead of run from. So, I’m required to do what my conscience would convince me to do if I weren’t required to do it, but I don’t have to worry about the morality crisis since the decision has already been made for me. Somehow, I feel the phrase “win-win situation” is appropriate, but I’ve talked my reason into a circle, so I can’t explain any further.

7.27 “Your Assignment”

This whole deal is damn complicated. I’m supposed to teach English, teach teachers how to speak English, and help teachers develop participatory learning practices. I’m supposed to use the communicative method and increase students’ and teachers’ ability to communicate and express themselves using English, in whatever form that may be, and thereby try to convince people—some of whom are Indonesian English teachers who have been teaching more than ten years and can’t understand anything that I say but are more familiar with the rules of English grammar than I could ever hope to be—that most grammar problems really aren’t that critical in the grand scheme of interpersonal communication. In other words, “Hi. All you’ve learned in college and what you’ve been teaching day in and day out since I was in middle school isn’t really that important to your students.” The unfortunate thing is that this is probably a truer statement than “It’s a good thing your students know the difference between the past and future progressive tenses,” at least in my case because I am not a trained TEFL teacher and Indiana only requires eight weeks of introductory grammar to become licensed in language arts education (a completely different field from foreign language education), so I’m not really even capable or certified to teach much more than the communicative (hippie?) hey-all-we-have-to-do-is-talk-dude method. Considering the nature of the English curriculum in this country, however, I seem to be perfectly qualified to teach here (I’ll explain later).

The duties from the Indonesian government focus, as far as I can tell, on the “participatory learning practices” part of the job description. In the eyes of the Peace Corps (and in my opinion, too, I think), the communicative method is best practice. It’s the latest trend in language education and seems to have lots of merits, especially since our students—who are, for better or worse, global community members plugged into global culture and communications—want tangible, useful results. The teachers in the bigger cities in Indonesia are doing lots of participatory learning stuff and bringing innovative practices into their classrooms, to the pleasure of the higher ups in the political departments of education and religion, who oversee public and private (Islamic) schools, respectively. The kids are happy because they can make friends around the world and join the global community by using the Internet and their English language skills. The government and the Peace Corps realizes that the participatory learning techniques that are helping the big-city kids haven’t yet disseminated into smaller, more isolated areas. Enter Peace Corps.

The new PC presence in Indonesia could be construed as an effort to force progress ahead of its natural course. Alternatively, if the program is sustained and developed into the future and efforts are continued and supported by the Indonesian and US governments/people, the seemingly artificial progress has a chance at longevity, meaning it can take hold and will appear to have happened naturally…after a length of time, it won’t matter how things were changed, only that they were; the continuance of the program until schools can operate independently in the fashion the government wishes them to seems to be key. Who knows how long that will take, especially considering the fickle nature of governments, presidents, and ministers of education/religion (if not the people themselves, at least the transiency of finite terms of office). I won’t even mention the horrible corruption that I keep hearing permeates every official office from the president’s to the teacher’s.

The Indonesian English curriculum is another beast to battle. The curriculum seems to be modeled after a bahasa Indonesia course rather than a foreign language course; students are taught English by reading literature; the three large units this semester are narrative, analytical exposition, and report. Meaning, for example, that we teach material relating to narratives and short stories (exposition, climax, resolution, etc.) as opposed to how to talk about the weather, give someone directions, or how to describe your family. Supposedly, they’ve covered all this stuff in previous years; they’ve been taking English class since third grade and if the majority of them had absorbed most of the material since then, I could see teaching what’s in the curriculum. The reality of the situation is that the students can barely introduce themselves let alone how to tell me to get from their house to school or how many siblings they have. More of them than can speak can write about that stuff; I have met only a small handful of students across East Java who are capable of holding a conversation. Most of the students at my school can greet me (though not always with the time-appropriate salutation) and can answer “How are you?” (always with the generic, obviously rote-memorized “I’m fine, and you?”), however, not have a chat about the weather or what they ate for breakfast. Why is this a problem and not a cause for celebration in that I seem to have my work cut out for me? Because of the curriculum and the communicative method after which my instruction is required to be modeled. I can’t afford the time it would take to teach them basic conversation skills (that they should have already learned) because of the rigidity of the curriculum, though my PC goal is to help students improve their interpersonal communication skills. These will not be substantially improved if a student learns the parts of a narrative in English, not to mention the fact that they’re going to have to study the language and the content, which is grade-level. It would be like trying to take a high school English language arts course in German when you can’t speak German (with textbooks in German exclusively and a teacher only minimally proficient in German), only more difficult because those languages are at least in the same family. Maybe it’d be like taking a high school English language arts course in Indonesian.

The standards in the curriculum must be met. The teachers and governing bodies are very demanding, bureaucratic, and rigid on this issue. Plus, the students have already paid for their curriculum-based textbooks, so I can’t, in good conscience, not use them, even though they’re probably 15-20% incorrect in usage and grammar (native speakers were not involved in the writing or editing of my school’s English textbooks of choice. Here’s an example of why this is less than ideal: on the back of our textbook is a list of “Tips to be a Rigid Person,” including these gems: “Implement the useful thinking strategy and do what you can do for better wish and feel optimistic for the future,” and “A happy and rigid person have not to face to problems alone, but he tends to ask help.” All fine and good, in my opinion, because I get the jist of what is trying to be said, but this is an English textbook).

This difficult situation isn’t helped by the teachers’ attitude towards their students’ education. It appears to me that the teachers are in practice more concerned with the less important things, like uniforms and keeping up appearances, bureaucracy and documentation, meetings and school-related appointments with non-student people. In theory, the students’ education is the most important thing—I’m hoping that’s the case, anyways. In practice, not so much. I’ve twice taught English classes I thought I’d be observing because the teacher didn’t show up. Teachers leave class if any little thing comes up and “give students duties” to do in their absence. There is no substitute teacher system if a teacher is absent or ill. There is no penalty for lateness or unexcused absence on the part of a teacher. Yesterday, the last two periods of the day were cancelled and the kids sent home so that the teachers could have a meeting about today’s visit from some Surabaya education officials. Today, all of the teachers were pulled out of class in the middle of a lesson to greet the officials and have a half-an-hour long meeting wherein the officials said “We don’t want to keep you from the kids, but…” numerous times but proceeded to give lame, probably bogus information about their job as school accreditors and what their duties entailed. Plus, my counterpart told me that most of the teachers didn’t teach today because they were preparing for the accreditation meetings. It is a very big possibility that I may have been the only one teaching. More than a little frustrating for the obvious reasons and less obviously because teachers’ nonchalance must do little in the way of promoting students’ investment in their own education. We could chalk this all up to cultural differences but I can’t ignore hundreds of kids being half-assedly instructed and whole-heartedly pushed along to the next grade when kids in places like Malang are more proficient at probably every subject than the students here and students in Surabaya and Jakarta are probably startlingly more advanced than those in Malang. Less technology, fewer resources, and older facilities shouldn’t make this much of a difference and it’s clear that these attitudes and practices aren’t necessarily solely cultural (somewhat, I’m sure, but we can certainly do better than we’re doing now).

There’s a little calming voice in my head that reminds me to keep perspective. The thing is, I’m a high school language teacher. I keep thinking back on my times in high school French class and what studying French in high school did for me. I don’t want to demean my educational experiences or those of my peers or diminish the importance of my French teachers’ jobs, but studying a foreign language in high school is not the end of the world. But neither is it insignificant! Undoubtedly, the kids will learn lots of English while I’m here. They will not be fluent in two years at three hours a week; realistically speaking, high school foreign language courses do not produce fluent speakers. Does this mean that what I can teach my students is any less important or significant to their real lives? No. In Indonesia, a high school graduate with even beginning English competency has many more job opportunities than a non-English speaking graduate. That’s enough motivation for me. Kids can’t graduate or go to college if they don’t pass the National English exam (cheating culture in Indonesia is another mind-boggling topic, to be saved for another time…ditto for the National Exam). If I can help someone gain enough competency to enter a collegiate program to become an English teacher or English language specialist, that’s great, too. Just as in the States, I’m preparing kids for their futures. I’d drive myself crazy if I tried to make everybody fluent; I’m hoping to give them the skills they need to continue their educations after I leave. I keep thinking…how much French did I learn in two years? I took three years of French, spent a little time getting some real-world experience (my three weeks in Europe during which I spoke mostly French to communicate with my host families did more to solidify my French language skills than anything I did as a student in the classroom), and have watched lots of movies and read a couple of books in French during and since high school, and I can confidently say that I probably wouldn’t perish if you dropped me into Paris or Lille without a dictionary. I could find a room to rent with no trouble. I may even be able to get a job, probably a working-class job, certainly not a teaching job. That’s about it, and I would say I’m good at foreign languages. Now, that assessment is based on three years of formal education, a semester of college French, real-world experience, and some independent study and review—way more interaction with the language than my students will have over the next two years. It’s just true. I have big expectations but I have to be realistic. I’m so honored to be teaching these kids and they are so eager to learn English. I’m thrilled to be working with such polite, excited, funny, interesting students. For some of them, interacting with me may change their lives, maybe not because I’m me but because I’m a foreigner and an English speaker. Teaching here will certainly change my life. I’m happy to remind myself that I don’t have the responsibility of making them fluent—if they can improve and feel confident to use the skills they have and will hopefully gain over the next two years, it will be a success for me. I don’t have low expectations but I’m not going to set myself or my kids up for failure. We’ll do what we can with the time we’ve been given, and it will probably be great, but it’s not the be-all-end-all of their English language learning experience. Those who really want to become fluent will continue studying after high school, and those who don’t may use intermediate/advanced English in their lives or jobs; some will become farmers like their parents and work the fields and not need English, and some will forget their dozen or so years of English language education, like their parents, regardless of their jobs and careers. And not every student will be motivated enough to become fluent. Most of the kids are already too far behind to catch up to the curriculum without individual, intensive language training that their families cannot afford and that I can’t be responsible for. Certainly every student could benefit from even minimal English proficiency, which is why they’re required to take it. Certainly, discovering a knack for language could open the door to higher education and job opportunities. Certainly, all students express a desire to learn and speak English…but the ones who aren’t sufficiently intrinsically motivated will not become fluent. Is this a grim outlook? Is it grim to be realistic? Is it more than just more attractive to be an idealist? Am I simply incorrect? I am talking fluency here, after all (which seems to be the goal of the curriculum here in Indonesia considering that all schools seem to work for is “International Standard” recognition, meaning all subjects are taught and studied in English). I don’t mean to say there aren’t students who won’t become intermediate or advanced…I’m a firm, firm believer in the power of intrinsic motivation. Nobody but yourself can motivate you enough to do something you’re not intrinsically motivated to do, which is good, right? Art, music, poetry? Heart-stuff doesn’t come from someone else’s heart. There can be influencing factors but in the end it’s your heart (and language is an art form, in many ways manifest but in undeniably universal). High school students need more extrinsic motivation because they’re still young, but at the same time their intrinsic motivation to follow their own will and whimsy is stronger than ever. I’m generally a highly motivated person but I haven’t been making as much of an effort to study bahasa Indonesia over the past two months as I should be…even though there’s plenty of extrinsic motivation. What does it all mean? I don’t know!

I suppose the conclusion is this: I’m not as concerned with “teaching” and “the students” as I was a couple of months ago. What I’m concerned about at this moment are the teachers. They’ll be working with generations of students to come, and I hope they will let me help them. I hope they want my help. I’m a high school language teacher, sure, but primarily I’m a Peace Corps lady. I’ve got duties beyond the classroom; I’m not an employee of my school. I’m worried about the students, absolutely, but I’m also here to help the country help its teachers. The participatory learning initiative is from Jakarta (so, I don’t feel like I’m marching in and saying “Let’s do things like Americans do them!” although Americans do tend to teach with participatory learning techniques. So do the majority of successful teachers around the world). I know that the practices and structures that are in place now are longstanding and deeply rooted but hopefully I can be an instigator for change, even if it means I accomplish little but help prepare my school and my friends there to continue developing after I’m gone, alone or with another volunteer. The fact is plain that the teachers have practices that must change if they are to meet the demands from their capital and the Ministries of Education and Religion. I’m going to start by trying to get them thinking about what’s really important to them as teachers…hopefully we can come to an agreement that our number one priority is the students. Once we agree on that, we can start thinking about what it means. Hopefully somewhere along the way I’ll work with the teachers to help them develop a desire to motivate students and some strategies for doing so. I hope they’re as motivated as I am…I hope there’s at least one teacher as motivated as I am.

Basically, I’ve got my work cut out for me as long as I can become trusted and as long as my school is committed to the goals of its country and my program. The school, at this moment, is giving me the impression that they think I’m here to be a free English teacher for two years. I wouldn’t put it past them to have jumped at the opportunity to have a native speaker because of the prestige foreigners tend to receive in this country, not necessarily because of anything the Peace Corps has to offer (I’ve had to explain to my counterparts and principal, numerous times, the goal of the project, the purpose of the Peace Corps, and my job duties). I don’t fault them for this. How can I? I don’t understand it. I do understand that the teachers and principal at my school are still a somewhat unclear as to my purpose here and that developing a mutual understanding and mutual goals is critical. I hope to accomplish this by the end of this semester. I’m still coming up with strategies but I envision myself as more of a consultant and trainer than someone who’s in the trenches, teaching every lesson everyday. If I do that, where does that leave the school two years from now? The problem is that the school sees me as someone who’s going to be in the trenches. That won’t do. I’ll certainly be working my ass off for the next two years, but it won’t be your run-of-the-mill teaching job. It will be much subtler but challenging…equally so.

So, steps initial: make sure everybody’s on the same page in terms of my role, the goals of the Peace Corps, and the most important things about being a teacher. I thought I had done this but the first two weeks of school have proven that we’re not completely copacetic. I’ve also got to figure out a way to save myself from the hopelessness of the thought that I’m trying to alter (significantly?) practices and methods that have been in place for years. Steps following: help teachers develop participatory learning techniques hopefully through demonstrations and workshops, monitor teachers’ progress and focus particularly on my counterpart’s development, and continue helping my counterpart teach English, do the extracurricular stuff (hopefully with my counterpart so she can continue it all when I’m gone).

Oh, yeah, and then there’s that stuff about developing my host community through environmental programs, youth outreach, health education, and women’s programs, etc.; learning bahasa Indonesia and studying Javanese, Indonesian, and Javanese Islamic cultures and the religion of Islam; being an ambassador of my country and my culture; and teaching Americans about all of the above through informal means and the World Wise Schools program; and world peace. Free of charge. Clap your hands say yeah!

(Plus, I’ve got to watch my daily Darius from 7-7:30pm. Survey membuktikan!)

7.28

The good ones, the golden humble hearts. Happy Birthday, Om Jelek.

*

Oh, get me to a party. I must say CLHSY’s debut is one of the best albums of the new millennium. It’s certainly good to listen to when you’re in a strange place all alone and without much going on. A lazy evening. On the reservation, it was Laurie Anderson, Ratatat, and Beatles revelations. So far, Indonesia’s Bob Marley, Martha Scanlan (for the sleepy sad heart times), violin sonatas by Ravel, “Kids” on a loop, and CLHSY.

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O Yoshimi

 

“I love, indeed, to regard the dark valleys, and the gray rocks, and the waters that silently smile, and the forests that sigh in uneasy slumbers, and the proud watchful mountains that look down upon all, — I love to regard these as themselves but the colossal members of one vast animate and sentient whole — a whole whose form (that of the sphere) is the most perfect and most inclusive of all; whose path is among associate planets; whose meek handmaiden is the moon, whose mediate sovereign is the sun; whose life is eternity, whose thought is that of a God; whose enjoyment is knowledge; whose destinies are lost in immensity, whose cognizance of ourselves is akin with our own cognizance of the animalculae which infest the brain — a being which we, in consequence, regard as purely inanimate and material much in the same manner as these animalculae must thus regard us.” —Edgar Allen Poe, “The Island of the Fay”

 

Happy Birthday Emily!

 

7.21

There’s something fairly amazing going on here and it’s not because of me. Is it? I hope the positivity keeps movin’ things along. School is a dream. Of course there are issues in the classroom—and they’re fairly (troublingly?) similar to those I had stateside—but I’m pleasantly surprised by the ease with which my first few days have passed. I think the kids like me and I like them, even though we don’t yet fully understand one another. But mutual affection is the first step! Plus, I managed to teach the past three days, meaning nine hour and a half long sessions, without the aid of my counterpart or another Indonesian teacher. I spoke lots of bahasa Indonesia mingled with slow, overly-enunciated English and drew lots of pictures of what I wanted the kids to do.

 

7.24

Teachers sometimes decide not to go to class or that they have other, more important priorities. During the first week of classes, I taught two hour and a half long sessions alone when I had intended on observing the real teacher’s lessons and just happened to drop by assuming the teacher wouldn’t mind me sitting in; I taught both classes because the teacher was a no-show.

 

Bad news: I’m getting booted from boy scouts. We had to move the teachers’ English course into the same time slot and that’s just too bad for me!

 

I can’t write much. I’m exhausted and I have a cold. Things are going well.

*

“The more I explore neurosis the more I become aware that it is a modern form of romanticism. It stems from the same source, a hunger for perfection, an obsession with living out what one has imagined, and it is found to be illusory, a rejection of reality, the power to imagine and not to sustain one’s endurance, and then the creative force turned into destruction. Many of the romantics destroyed themselves because they could not attain the absolute, in love or creation. They could not attain it because it was invented, it was a myth.” –Anaïs Nin

 

I am so grateful for the dear ones.

A Nice, Modern Gentleman

7.12 and 7.13

Refusing to play the game is what has gotten me in trouble in the past. Numerous times. In numerous arenas.* Now that I’m in the Peace Corps and living in a foreign country, I don’t have an option to not play the game…but as of now, I’m still not exactly sure what that might entail. I’m talking more in terms of assimilation/adaptation (different, I know, but we’re doing a little of both, especially considering the host family setup) than in performing my duties as a PCV, the details of which seem fairly easy to grasp and hopefully as easy to execute. Tied up in the mix of learning a new language, trying not to offend everyone, adjusting to constantly being in the spotlight or at least given copious amounts of undesired attention, and missing the comforts of home and family is the strange predicament of becoming an Indonesian daughter.

My host family has repeatedly told me that I am just like one of their children, anak sendiri, still single and livin’ at home. In Indonesia, unmarried children live with their parents, regardless of age or their desire to marry (even if they express wanting to pursue a career instead of marriage, they will still live at home if unwed). I’m having to adjust to this role, as are my fellow volunteers, I’m sure. I’ve come from six years living on my own far from any relatives and now I’m surrounded by strangers who know me and folks who worry about me more than I worry about myself…probably even more than my mother worries about me.

It’s all at once strange, aggravating, endearing, infuriating, and sweet. I’m put through the ringer if I want to travel anywhere alone, I can’t go a day without being reminded to take a shower, and my host parents tell me how worried they are about my reading too much. Still, I asked for help putting up my mosquito net and Ibu Mama and Ayah both jumped at the opportunity and had it up within minutes, Ibu Mama took care of me when I was sick** and Ayah was horribly worried, and I never have to worry about missing a meal or not having enough time to do laundry (which Ibu Mama would do in a pinch if I needed her to, like I did when I was ill). But then, I’m not allowed to sweep or wash dishes as much as I’d like to, Ibu Mama is developing a strange habit of watching me eat, and there’s still that damned special food table right outside my bedroom door. Then again, Ibu Mama pays particular attention to what I eat and don’t eat and manages to figure out what I don’t like when I’m too shy to tell her I don’t like it, she buys my favorite fruits at the market when our supply runs low, and Ayah worries about me forgetting my afternoon tea and asks me for help with his cell phone troubles.

Luckily for all parties involved, the good outweighs the bad. It always does. I’m adjusting to being more pampered in some ways than I have been in years and reconciling this state with the (romantic?) image of The Hard Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer and what I thought my life would be like here, what I had prepared myself for…I’m figuring out how to navigate problems I never anticipated I’d have as a PCV. It’s not that I’m not enjoying the experience. It’s just so different than I thought it would be.

Because I’m already starting to love my host parents, I’m starting to feel a willingness to take on the role they expect, relax a bit, and play the game.

~~~

Well, I just made a pretty thrilling start-of-the-school-year speech to the incoming class of tiny adorable MAN Panekan people. The big news: I gave the speech in bahasa Indonesia and wrote almost all of it by myself! And I think the kids understood most of what I said! Here’s the translation:

//Good morning and welcome to MAN Panekan! Today I would like to talk to you about how you can study better and how you can become brave and intelligent students.

Firstly, the most important thing, don’t be shy with the teachers and staff here. If you have a question, ask it! If you have difficulties in your studies, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are confused, don’t be silent. Our duty as your teachers is to educate you, and your duty as a student is to ask for help if you need it.

Secondly, you must study diligently and help your classmates. If you are in class, participate. Bring an open mind and don’t be afraid to speak your thoughts; if you have a good idea, share it with your friends and teachers. Moreover, don’t be afraid of mistakes. You must try; the mistaken one is the student who is always afraid of trying. If you study diligently and read your books and materials before and after they are taught, you prepare for class with sincerity. If you give help to your friends and follow your teachers, you participate with sincerity. And if you study hard and speak with bravery, you honor yourself and everyone at MAN Panekan.

Lastly, practice English and Arabic every day in class and at home. For your future, try to study your languages until you are fluent. Remain serious with your studies but always remember to be happy at your madrasah, MAN Panekan.

Forgive me because my bahasa Indonesia still has many mistakes. I wish you the best of success in becoming good citizens of the world, citizens who are useful to your community and your nation. Thank you! //

That last bit about becoming useful citizens of the community and nation was added by Ibu Mama this morning when she reviewed my speech; I’m not sure how I feel about that idea, but Indonesia is an exceptionally patriotic country and proud of it, so expressing this sentiment is appropriate given the context.

This was definitely an Indonesian-style speech…I’m getting real good at writing speeches that tickle Indonesians, young and old. There’s a fairly standard technique for giving speeches in this country and certain expectations about what should be said and how; I think I nailed this one because I met the Indonesian standards for speech-makin’ and added a few things of my own (mostly the stuff about being brave, sharing your thoughts, and being open-minded).

I was charged with “motivating the students”; the vice principal encouraged me to tell them to study like American kids and describe the successful study practices of my students back home. I went this route instead because I agree with Noel—my job here isn’t to transform this school into an American school. There are practices here that could be improved and some that are working just fine; I’m here to help the teachers and students here develop their strengths and assets, not transform the school based on what I think is best (which, at this point, I don’t know. Nobody does!! It’s a shame that some of the folks at my school think a. the Americans know what’s best, and b. if we become more like Americans, we’ll be more successful. That’s not what I think!).

Anyways, I loved giving my (super cheesy!) speech and I hope the kids felt “motivated” in some way. If anything, it gave them a chance to listen to me speak bahasa Indonesia, which is good—they’ve got to get used to my accent, both in bahasa Indo and English, and my insane grammar constructions in bahasa Indo, and any chance they get to listen to me speak takes us a step further toward being able to communicate effectively with one another.

Fun Fact: During the speech, the students were wearing homemade construction-paper crowns with their names written on them. Brown pramuka (scout) uniforms and the enormous paper crowns shining in the morning sunlight while perched atop jilbabs and pecis coupled with me speaking broken Indonesian made for a very surreal Apel Pagi (or Morning Apple, the daily harangue). I should have used the megaphone.

*

After the speech I sat around for three hours with nothing to do. I read the newspaper, chatted with a couple of teachers, sent a couple of frustrated text messages, and managed to pry some information out of Pak Agus regarding the schedule for this week. It consists of “walking around campus” tomorrow for the final day of orientation, nothing on Thursday (“there’s no schedule”), and “playing games” Friday and Saturday. Seeing as the teaching schedule is still being written and finalized, there are no classes this week…but every student is required to come to school anyways.

Fifteen minutes before I was supposed to start the afternoon activity, I started chattin’ up Bu Puji about my schedule. I noticed she had signed me up to supervise the extracurricular graphics design course, to which I promptly objected and explained that I needed time for English Club. After a few minutes of holding my breath and feeling beads of sweat gather on my forehead as Bu Puji organized the schedule, we had solidified my extracurricular activities!! My eyeballs turned into sunshine and all of the teachers spontaneously broke into song and highly choreographed dance, singing praises to the glorious scheduling gods and sprinkling jasmine blossoms on top of my head. Snack boxes rained down from the balconies and Pak Noor called Travolta in for a cameo. Now that’s cultural sensitivity!

I’ll be leading an English newsletter club on Monday, teaching the Advanced teachers’ course on Tuesday, spending Wednesdays in English Club proper, joining Pak Agus and the volleyball team on Thursdays, teaching three English classes for teachers on Fridays (one Advanced section and two Regulars), and helping the scouts (Pramuka) on Saturdays. Sweet!

I was about to ask Bu Puji for some insider info about my class schedule when Pak Yazid came into the teacher’s room and told me it was time to start the afternoon activity. I had planned a scavenger hunt for the new students to do that involved interacting with their new teachers in an informal fashion. Yesterday I collected interesting facts, most of which turned out to be what hobbies the teachers preferred, and planned to give the students time to write down the facts before having them match the teachers with the facts, obtaining names and signatures in the process. The kids had to write down the facts one by one as I read them over the loudspeaker because we don’t have a photocopy machine. I explained to the teachers that they would have to remember their fact and not tell the students anything but “yes” or “no” when asked about it by the students (I didn’t want teachers saying things like, “No, I don’t like baking. My hobby is playing football!” and letting the students off easy). The kids had to ask the teacher’s name and find out what their hobby was, completing their task when all hobbies on the list had been accounted for (I’m sorry for that fairly horrible description…my brain is made of noodles today).

It didn’t go poorly. In fact, it went rather well. Some of the teachers, however, totally missed the point of the activity so didn’t feel like it was as much of a success as I did. In my mind, the purpose was to get students interacting with teachers. The students are so shy and nervous (or at least appear to be) and I was hoping to encourage them to have some face-to-face interaction with the teachers they’ve seen roaming around their new campus but probably haven’t said anything to. During the activity, students were chatting with teachers, learning names, and having fun. So were most of the teachers! However, after the game was over (ended prematurely for midday prayers), some of the teachers were givin’ me guff about the students cheating, asking their friends about which teachers had what hobbies, and following their friends around in a group and completing the task that way. Frankly, I didn’t care much about how they got their answers—when all was said and done, they interacted with their new teachers and peers, which was the point of the activity, in my mind. If the kids were too shy to ask teachers questions directly, they at least had to face a teacher, hand their paper over, and ask for his/her name and signature. Most of the teachers were doing a good job of requiring the kids to ask about the hobbies and most of the students were following the rules. Is it a mistake to not expect all 130 to follow directions precisely and be engaged and honest? Especially considering the brain-melting amount of cheating we’ve seen during the national exams? Do I automatically sell them short by being realistic? Does always anticipating 100% honest participation set me up for disappointment? If the teachers didn’t understand the purpose of the game, am I to assume the students took nothing from it because they didn’t understand the purpose either? So many questions. Today was the first day I really wished there was a fluent English speaker at my school (my relatively fluent counterpart is out of town).

I suppose I’m a little bit defensive because I was asked by the vice principals and heads of class to come up with a game for the incoming class and teachers to play together. I was asked to do this by myself. It’s hard work, coming up with a game for 150 people, the majority of which are 15 year olds whose language I don’t speak fluently! (Whine, whine, whine, right?) Pak Agus seemed to like it and see its flaws with perspective. He said he could envision himself adapting it to use when teaching vocabulary, so score. Plus, I was brave enough to speak to the entire group of students and teachers with a microphone attached to a loudspeaker. Score again.

Next time, I’d have them pair up and use one piece of paper. The poor teachers did have an awful lot of papers to sign. I’d also write out specific step-by-step directions so that the explanation was as clear as possible. I didn’t realize the teachers who helped me explain the game would have as hard a time as they did; scavenger hunts are thoroughly foreign here and it’s hard to empathize because scavenger hunts are so “normal” to me. Next time I’d like to have prizes, too!! I had intended to make it a race but backed out on that idea when I realized I had forgotten to get prizes (really, I had forgotten to decide definitively about whether to buy prizes or not; I’ve finally decided that I am not going to buy anything for the school because that won’t help in the long run, though I desperately want to buy twenty class sets of scissors and markers and could probably afford it with my settling allowance). Lastly, I’d remember to include myself in the game. I completely forgot to add my hobby to the list! Whoops!

*I suppose this is contextual or relative; I am happy and fortunate for the way my life has gone thus far and troubles haven’t led me anywhere but here. Temporary troubles that deliver opportunity and positive change are always welcome. The universe provides us with what we need whether we realize we need it or not.

**Sorry I didn’t call you, Lyn. I didn’t have a temperature. Masuk angin.

7.14

Last night I went with one of the neighbor ladies to a house up the street where a cow had just been slaughtered. In Indonesia, especially in villages, the slaughtering of a cow is a pretty big event. There’s usually a party the day after it’s killed; one cow can feed more than a thousand people, according to the ladies I spoke with yesterday.

The carcass was behind the house and the ladies and some of the men were cooking and chopping meat in the large traditional kitchen inside. I brought my camera and everyone was excited to have me take pictures of their handiwork. It was pretty gruesome but I wasn’t bothered; I think if I had seen the slaughtering I would have been substantially overwhelmed. Lots of the guys wanted me to take pictures of them holding up parts of the cow (ribs, legs, the head) and the ladies who were chopping papaya leaves encouraged me to photograph the various processes going on in the kitchen, including meat-chopping, ketan preparation, and getting side dishes ready to be packaged for the big party. I was interested in helping but got distracted by the cow’s legs, hanging from a bamboo rack, muscles still twitching way more than you’d imagine two-hours-dead muscles would twitch. The ladies gave me some delicious dodol and some of the younger girls took my picture before I went home for the evening. I’ll be going back later for the party, which starts tonight and lasts two days.

In other news, I will be teaching 10th graders at MAN Panekan this year!! It’s as final as things get in the world of Indonesian scheduling. Pak Yazid wanted to divide my time amongst all of the 11th grade and 10th grade classes in such a way that I would only see each class once a week for two hours but I gently (re)explained the counterpart set-up and my philosophy about how teaching a fewer number of students more thoroughly is more ideal than teaching many students just a little bit.

Also spent some time talking with a nice teacher, Bu Tarti. It was great. She started the conversation by asking me why I don’t like chatting. I explained that contrary to popular opinion, I don’t speak Javanese (people are usually surprised when I tell them this because I can say “yes,” “no,” and “good morning,” in the language of the land, which somehow translates as fluency). So, we chatted in Indonesian. She told me lots of interesting fun facts about Indonesian history and Javanese people…I may start to rival Bart with my new wealth of unverified cultural tidbits:

Javanese people, for the most part, like foreigners who wear Javanese clothes and sing in or speak Javanese because it confuses the adolescents—who are less plugged into the traditions of their culture as their parents would like them to be—and makes them question why they don’t know more about their own heritage than a foreigner. It’s reverse psychology for cultural preservation!

Before independence was gained in ’45, most people didn’t go to school. The majority of the educated adults of today were the first people in their families to go to school. Before, women stayed at home and men were laborers for the Dutch.

Also before independence, people in villages in Java ate mostly cassava and goods made from cassava flour. They didn’t eat rice with every meal; it was cultivated but largely exported. Rice as a staple food is a relatively new development, at least in the smaller villages and dusun (neighborhoods).

~~~

Defying Stereotypes while Shaming the Peace Corps

This is a story about a cockroach. In Tlekung, I was fairly brave about bugs whether they flew, crawled, or jumped. You may remember that I was turning into an insect-killing ninja, fearless and catlike. However, yesterday proved that I left those skills in Tlekung and regressed into my regular old bug-fearing self.

I was sitting on the kitchen steps chatting with Ibu Mama when I saw a cockroach crawling on the shelf near my head. Unfortunately, my first instinct was to scramble up and dash to the other side of the room. Ibu Mama grabbed a broom and tried to find the cockroach, but it scrambled off the shelf and started running across the floor, directly towards me! Bravely, I ran away. I stood at the top of the stairs and watched as ninja Ibu Mama sprang into action, grabbed a broom and ran after the cockroach, slapped it silly and crushed it to a gooey pulp with her flip-flop. She just laughed and said “You’re big! What’s the problem? He can’t do anything but run.” I said that I didn’t want him running on top of my feet or crawling up my leg (of course! Ugh!). Those things move fast and they’re not small.

I don’t feel too bad for being afraid, though it was very un-PC behavior. I’m sure there are Volunteers in Africa and the Middle East who deal with camel spiders and other unsavory bedmates and they’d probably pop me in the nose for being such a wuss. Oh, well. I learned that some things never change and that Ibu Mama is faster than a cockroach, so I still consider it a positive affair…unlike the cockroach, I imagine.

7.15

Surprises from Australia

I wrote Kang Guru and asked for a subscription about a week and a half ago; Kang Guru is a Bali-based collaboration of Indonesians (students and educators) and Australians which publishes an English language magazine specifically for Indonesian high school students. I figured I’d get a copy of the magazine to look through and consider ordering for my classes. I looked through the online version after requesting a subscription and was tickled to see a little story about the Peace Corps program reopening in Indonesia for the purpose of providing high school English teachers.

I thought I’d receive an email back from Kang Guru about my request for a subscription—I told them I was a PCV working in East Java—and that maybe they’d want to collaborate…or something! I don’t really know what I was expecting. They have a radio show that’s broadcast throughout Indonesia and I wouldn’t mind getting in on it, helping out somehow, or talking to the Kang Guru folks about their experiences teaching English here and getting some advice. But a week went by with no reply. I was bummed until yesterday, when a large package from Kang Guru arrived for me at school.

Kang Guru had sent me a teacher’s package! I got two class sets of the latest issue of the magazine, a bunch of stickers and posters, a few folders of lesson plans and accompanying CD’s based on mistakes frequently made by Indonesian speakers of English, a teacher’s guide in English and bahasa Indonesia with lots of activities and suggestions for working with Indonesian curriculum, and a book of lesson plans and accompanying CD’s and cassettes based on curricula for each grade level. For free! I haven’t quite finished looking through the whole kit, bit it seems pretty swell so far.

I found out that Kang Guru will send this kit to any teacher of English in Indonesia who writes and requests it. In fact, they come out with two teacher kits a year (and four magazine issues), which they mail out for free. The organization is a part of the Indonesia Australia Language Foundation and the Australia Indonesia Partnership and receives funding from AusAID. Excellent!

7.15

Oh, no!! My schedule is changing again!! Slightly irritating! The principal wants me to teach BBI Classes (Bimbingan Belajar Intensif, Guided Intensive Studies) for the 12th graders, which sounds great to me, but I wish I had my schedule finalized. I mean, school started three days ago. I’m probably going to have to give up volleyball and/or Pramuka to accommodate the addition of BBI. That’s a big bummer. I was looking forward to some non-English language related socialization with the students, but alas…hopefully chatting outside of class will be enough non-academic socializing to make them (and me) feel more comfortable interacting.

Anyways, did I ever tell you about the uniforms I’ll be wearing at MAN Panekan? They’re pretty amazing(ly hot and polyester and boxy). Monday/Tuesday is olive green pantsuit day. Wednesday is canary yellow blouse day. Thursday is long-sleeved T-shirt day, Friday is fuchsia and blue bamboo batik day, and Saturday is green batik day. At least I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to wear to school…or wear a jilbab. I’ve had a hell of a time with Ibu Mama’s tailor; I don’t even want to go in to the details of how I came to acquire these garments but suffice it to say: 1. I’m a giant in Indonesia, 2. thinking about wearing the polyester long-sleeved pantsuit to teach in ninety-plus degree weather in open air classrooms is a fairly bleak activity, and 3. our tailor in Tlekung really knew his stuff.

Accepting Kerouac

7/11

Okay, time to get serious. I’m sorry I haven’t sent any letters lately. I haven’t been able to get to a post office that won’t charge me a dozen times the normal rate to send letters home. However, I’m desperate for a letter from you, if you are reading this. I miss you and I need something to remind me of what normal life is; my new life is still abnormal, foreign, and rather tumultuous, at least in my head, sometimes.

*

What does “integration” mean? How am I supposed to “integrate” into this community? I’m feeling very anxious about the daunting reality of language barriers and the very large possibility that I will never be able to communicate in the way I want to, not because I won’t be able to master Indonesian but because I will not be able to master Javanese as well before two years has passed (two forms of it, no less). I will always be an outsider, of course, but it doesn’t help that I am not learning the everyday language of the community. There’s no sense in starting to study it now, either, since I need stronger Indonesian for work: all of the teachers and students speak Indonesian at school, in the classroom and most of the time outside the classroom, and town/official meetings are done in Indonesian.

It’s so frustrating to be left out of all conversations at home. If we have guests or family over, Javanese is spoken…I greet the guests and then sit on the couch, not really there. It’s depressing. It’s not helping me make friends. In fact, I feel myself caring less and less about speaking English in front of Indonesian friends when I’m around Andy because I reason that they speak Javanese in front of us and don’t seem to care that we can’t understand. Then I feel like a jerk for not caring. It’s my awful way of reacting to the situation and it’s terribly closed-minded. Not very Peace Corps, huh? Isn’t that ugly? At least I’m willing to admit it, I guess. I’d rather tell the truth than say everything is gumdrops, lollipops, and multicolored doves holding wings and flying off together into the sunset.

It’s startling how impatient I’ve become over the past month, with myself and others. I can’t tell if I’m over-stressed or homesick or still adjusting to the move or what, but I’m sure losing my perspective. But don’t worry, I’m not acting on my frustrations…actively. I’m trying to remember the words of wisdom from SK and others who have helped me out over the past couple of weeks. Still, I feel guilty for not being as patient as I thought I could be.

The impatience leads to the possibility of very bad days and potentially great days. If I get set off or feel angry at myself for some silly thing I did or didn’t do, I feel homesick and (almost) want to go home. If I have a day that goes smoothly or even spectacularly, naturally I feel elated and imagine staying on for a third year. The rollercoaster of the high-highs and low-lows. I wish I wasn’t so attached to my emotions; this is what I’m working on and will probably be working on for the rest of my life.
*

7/12

Busted open a letter from Evelyn last night. I couldn’t wait. I was feelin’ so blue and lonely and idle (a Sunday with no plans, PCV worst nightmare). Wrote her a letter back and felt immediately relieved and somewhat normal. Now, to find a way to Madiun to send it. Gah!

This past weekend, Andy and I went to Pacitan, a district/city on the south coast, about three hours away from Magetan. We went with a family from Andy’s village, the mother of which heads a bank branch in Panekan. They have two kids, a girl in college and a boy in high school, both great. We chatted most of the way to Pacitan and scenery during the drive was the most spectacular I’ve seen since traveling through Southern Europe.

We first went to the hot springs, which turned out to be hot swimming pools with which I was unimpressed. Next we went to a neat cave that was crowded, muggy, and impossibly beautiful but in serious danger of being destroyed, I thought; there were enormous fans blowing constantly, flood lights, little to no restrictions about what could or couldn’t be touched/walked on, and definitely not enough garbage bins. I shared my thoughts with Andy and we had an interesting discussion about the culture of conservation and whether the tendency to preserve is exceptionally American (or Western) and whether we over-protect things in the West. The division was that land is part of the world that we share but it’s also the property of its governing body, which can do as it pleases. Are there any international or worldwide standards for nature preservation or conservation?

After the cave we stopped at the market just outside it and I bought a great ring. We headed to the beach and got caught in the rain but managed to stay dry under the awnings at the fish market just offshore. We ate shrimp, tuna, and marlin…freshly caught earlier that day and fried right quick. The marlin was the best fish I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. (I love how there are tons of new superlatives in my life as a result of embarking on this adventure.) Andy and I were both stuffed from the lunch we ate before hitting the beach but we couldn’t resist the tasty treats! I thought my stomach would explode and if it had it would have absolutely been worth it! That marlin was unbelievably delicious!! Salty and fresh and meaty and perfect. Andy and I are already planning a trip back to Pacitan just so we can eat some more of it.

*

Highlights from the 4th of July and some more house pictures. Bon app, as mama bastio would say.

Jelly Roll Kings and Bread and Jam for Francis

At the request of about fifteen students via a text message sent to Pak Agus, I held the first English Club meeting at school, on Saturday. Eight students attended, which is great since it’s their summer break! I combined a couple of Truong’s ideas with an icebreaking activity from the PC working with youth book to create a pretty entertaining hour’s worth of mid-morning English language excitement (teaching tip for new teachers, from a new teacher: steal stuff that works, try it out, change it to fit your style and the needs of your students, and pass it on). I taught them how to talk about what they did last night (thanks Truong for the topic, which was perfect since I’ve already gone through introductory stuff with them) and we played a game involving a ball of yarn (!!), everybody having the “what did you do last night?” conversation with at least two people, and the creation of a giant spider-web that had to be undone in such a way that one person had to tell the group what someone else did the night before. Pretty swell. Then we did some vocabulary board races that ended up being extra great because the kids were loud and rambunctious enough to draw the attention and eventually the participation of a few teachers. The kids were stoked and I invited them over tomorrow afternoon for 4th of July watermelon and Oreos (thanks, Diana). I think I might teach them three-legged racing and the balance-an-egg-on-a-spoon-and-run game. If I can get my hands on a couple empty beras bags we can have an Indonesian version of a potato-sack race. O, Americana!

In other happy news, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on the PC Indonesia cookbook, of which I have been in charge since I volunteered for the honor in Jakarta (remember Jakarta?). I love that stuff. Reminded me of the good ol’ days sitting at the desk in the kitchen typing recipes until I had to frost someone’s name on a birthday cake or steal a nut croquette from Al (has it already been five months?). I’ve finished typing up all of the recipes from folks in the PST communities; I was excited to be able to translate almost everything without using a dictionary. If there’s one thing I can talk about in bahasa Indonesia, it’s food. We’ve got some great recipes so far and I can’t wait to see what the final product ends up looking like…including the artwork, layout, etc.

*

Current Indonesian pop is starting to grow on me in a terrible, terrible way, but I’m not ashamed. More surprised, if anything. I’m developing the same sort of lukewarm yet bizarrely resolute affections for it as I have for certain contemporary American pop musicians…probably because they’re a lot like siblings, one looking up to the other in lots of ways, for better or for worse. It’s baffling how influential contemporary American (pop) culture is on the world…I wish I had a way to find out about the history of Indonesian pop music in the last fifty years or so (I also wish I had a way to find out about other Indonesian music other than pop/karaoke tunes and totally traditional gamelan orchestras. I know there’s some far-out funk around and I’ve also heard a few folksy acoustic guitar tunes, but I only heard those because they were on the Laksar Pelangi soundtrack. Maybe that will be my starting point…but I haven’t seen any music for sale other than karaoke DVDs and top 40s, so.).

Anyways, I’m off to bed. Finally put up my mosquito net* and decided to go a day without coffee in hopes of having the best night’s sleep since arriving in my new place. Here’s to it!

xox,

Sam

PS: Happy birthday Mr. Al! Never forget your father’s words of wisdom regarding the significance of this new era in your life. Console yourself by the fact that your wife is only getting younger as the years go by.

*My mosquito net has been up since I arrived. It was my number one priority upon arriving at site. Right, guys? Okay, okay. I’m a dunce. Sorry, Lyn. If I have malaria, I promise I won’t call you and make you drive all the way from the office to stab my finger; I’ll just get Erika to do it. If I have The Dengue, well…haven’t we all been doomed from the start? Anyways, I think I signed something that says I’m entitled to at least one paid near-death experience before this two years is up.

***

Dear everyone in the US: I’m sorry, but the post office in Magetan tried to charge me $13 to send one letter to the States. I had a stack of them to send and figured mailing them off wouldn’t be an issue because I could send one letter from the post office in Malang for a little over a dollar. Lots of you have been written letters. Stand by.