I went for a little walk today after school, about half an hour up a lonely road and off through some corn fields.
Teachers spent the day reading the holy al-Qur’an and hanging out.
I had a great, rather one-sided conversation with the angkota driver on my way to town the other day. He asked me all sorts of provocative questions and gave me some practical life wisdom: “Don’t trust Indians. They’re too hot headed. Americans never get mad; Indonesians are always angry. There’s a lot of ugliness in Indonesia, huh? Lots of corruption. I think we should slit their throats. I was born in ’62—check out these muscles. By the way, are you a spy?” No.
I am really, very hungry today. And thirsty. My lips are horribly dry and my tongue is parched and scratchy; I never knew my tongue could be scratchy. I’ve been fasting since the start of Ramadhan, only skipping the bulan datang (monthly arrival) and two other days (I just wanted to eat!). It’s mostly a mind game but I’m awfully dried up today. Plus, the mouth starts to smell something awful after the first eight hours or so. “Verily, the unpleasant odor emanating from the mouth of the fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the scent of musk,” according to one of the Hadiths.
School has been going well. I feel very challenged. We’ve been reviewing personal pronouns this week and haven’t done enough speaking activities, but I’m hoping to change that for our next topic up for review: subject/verb agreement. My counterpart and I are realizing things together—realizing what the students can and cannot do, realizing the differences between the personalities and abilities of each of our classes, and realizing how happy we and the kids are when the material is at the appropriate level. I feel like we’re both experienced teachers who have been thrust back into our first year of teaching since we’re having to basically start from scratch, both of us teaching in ways we’ve never taught before (but for different reasons—she’s learning participatory methodology and I’m learning language education). It’s fascinating. We’re having fun.
One more week of regular classes, a week more of religious education; I’m on the brink of my first vacation in five months! My six month anniversary with Indonesia will pass at the tail end of my week off in Bali. I’ll be meeting Diana, Luke, and Noel in Surabaya before zipping off island… friends, bungalows, and beaches await. Though I’m not starving and I’m certainly not living in a grass hut, I’m sure my vacation time will be just as relished as if I had been stationed in Mongolia or Ghana or any other less environmentally hospitable PC countries. Hell, I’ve almost acquired a new language, integrated into two communities, rebuilt my professional life basically from scratch, faced the challenges of living in a new culture and amongst people of a very different religious background than my own, and moved halfway around the world without much more than a suitcase and a backpack…all in six months and I’ve not had even one hug from my mother. I deserve a break! I might as well go to one of the most beautiful places on the planet, right? Thank you, taxpayers!
Anyways! After school has been going well, too. I generally take a substantial break because of the fasting but I’ve been having English class every Tuesday and Friday at my house, though Bu Yati says that when Ibu Mama gets back that probably won’t fly since she (the latter) doesn’t like little kids. Luckily, Bu Yati offered her house up for class instead. It’s been so much fun, seeing all those beautiful little eager children all riled up to hang out and study! The class size has been increasing, too, almost every time. I had 34 today, one of whom was a 4th grader I met on the angkota and invited (she brought three friends). Today we played bingo and the prizes were oranges, stickers, a ruler, and a US quarter. The kids and I had a blast! It took them a half an hour to make their bingo boards but it was worth it (plus, they need to do stuff like that, I think… they’re not the best at problem solving or doing things independently; most of the stuff in their workbooks at school is fill in the blank or copy the answer from a text, so I’m glad to let them struggle through a process that should—by my standards—be easily manageable. Practice, practice.).
100 Things I Love About Indonesia
100. Making it to one hundred though I wasn’t absolutely sure I could. Thank you, Indonesia!
Independence Day: MAN Panekan seniors march, sing, and raise the flag in front of most of the students in the kecamatan!
Niam turns 7 months old: tradition is putting the kid under a chicken cage with a live chicken… nobody can explain it beyond “it’s tradition!”
Birthday: big pink stuffed teddy bear from my counterpart. Awesome! Her name–given by my friends Putri and Lia– is Mawar Anjel Kascafani.
Meaning, “I’m fine, thank you,” via text. From a middle school girl who lives down the street from me.
Just a few hours until Ramadan. Where’s my snowman countdown?
I had twenty kids over this afternoon to play study English with Kak/Tante/Bu/Miss/Mister Samantha. We played an alphabet game, an exciting round of Simon says, and each kid made his or her own set of memory cards using paper I had cut up earlier and vocabulary we generated together. I gave them some watermelon I had leftover from religion class at Bu Heri’s parents’ last night (I can’t go to Bu Heri’s neck of the woods without bringing home a bag full of cassava or half a watermelon. Refusing offerings of food is completely un-Javanese, so I take what I’m offered).
All was well until they asked me to help them with their homework, which is already too difficult for them because it’s impossible. Sample question from a student workbook: “Lisa, please put the _____ on the table!” a. flower, b. book, c. pencil case, d. glass. D’oh.
Or: Socrates is an ugly person
Wow, it’s Ramadan. You can read Colleen’s blog for her well-written description of what the daily routine is like. I like the title of the post. http://adventuresofyoungcolleen.blogspot.com/2010/08/ramadan-2-stuff-yourself-at-330-am.html
So, I’ve got the past two (and a half) days without eating or drinking from about 4 am to 5:30 pm. It’s easy to go without food but not drinking water is a shocker. I realized after the first day that those 14 or so hours was the longest period of time in my entire, entire waking life that I hadn’t at least had a sip of water. HAUS! Indonesia is hot! I am foreign!
Berbuka (opening of the fast) is a real treat. That first sip is grand, especially if it’s sweetened with melon syrup or if it’s a spoonful of liquid from es buah. Or if it’s sweet vanilla coconut milk. I know the deliciousness of it all and the satisfaction of opening the fast isn’t the point, but it’s still pretty great.
I asked my counterpart to explain why Muslim people fast. I’ve asked many questions about Islam to various different Muslims here in Indonesia, often only to receive unclear answers and sometimes to be told flat-out that the answer to my question is unknown (to the person I’m asking). Bu Heri said that fasting was required of every Muslim and that it’s healthy for your digestion, but if I wanted more precise information about what the Qur’an says I’d have to ask one of the religion teachers at school. Interesting. I took her advice and talked to Pak Labib, who said that fasting is a way to help us realize how poor people feel when they experience hunger and thirst and that it’s also a chance for us to supplicate ourselves before Allah and demonstrate our fear of him. With a slight smile and bright eyes, he described the beauty of the language of the Qur’an and how it inspires strength in those who follow Islam and participate in the fasting month.
I love hearing practitioners’ opinions or explanations about their religious practices and this often makes me appear like an exceptionally silly or ignorant foreigner because I ask seemingly silly questions (“Why do Muslims fast? Why do Muslim women wear jilbabs? Why don’t Muslims eat pigs or keep dogs for pets?”), but hearing people explain—or realizing that they can’t explain—is fascinating to me. I know I’m not supposed to be an anthropologist while I’m here, but I can’t help doing a little participant-observer business. I’m often surprised by what I hear, too; last week I asked Bu Heri and her husband their opinions on the full jilbab (cadar) that covers everthing but the eyes (not quite the same as a burqa) and she said it keeps your face clean. Her husband said “Yeah, it’s great because she can check out whoever she wants but doesn’t have to get checked out herself.” His is undoubtedly a complicated if not loaded reply for lots of reasons but it certainly wasn’t what I expected to hear.
English class again! Twenty-five kids came over this time. More than a few of them had never had an English class before, and two little boys who haven’t yet learned to read or spell just practiced writing their names with big markers after I demonstrated how to spell them.
I am sitting in a classroom at my school engulfed in utter silence as 300 people—mostly teenagers—pray, just outside the door. Five seconds ago the imam was giving the call to prayer and rattling my brains while the students were running, laughing, shouting, and dashing about noisily in their preparations. Now, a sudden silence. The tops of their heads are visible through the classroom windows and disappear as their owners bow to pray. They bob up and down again in waves, silent. The trees sway in the same rhythm but are somehow boisterous; a silence of liberation.
My student with special needs, Toha… today, he and I were making sentences from words on tiny slips of cardboard and his read “He play meatball.” I asked him to translate… “Dia permainan bakso.” He cracked up and quickly fixed his error. It was the first time I had seen him smile– let alone laugh– and the interesting part was that not five minutes earlier I had thought to myself, “If Toha is happy while he’s learning English, I don’t really care if he knows the difference between subject and object pronouns, or if he ever uses English outside of class, or if his verbs and subjects agree. If he’s happy (and learning some critical thinking skills), I’ll be happy.” He play meatballs.
Iris in the Sunlight
Horror, anxiety, frustration, calm elation, beaming positivity, mind-melting rage, uncertainty, shame, oneness, inadequacy, satisfaction, hope, intense love. In that order, the prevailing hourly emotions of the day…
…I woke up this morning after a terrible nightmare that has twice appeared in my nightly mental Cineplex since mid-March. I have many rational fears about increased vulnerability arising from being am a young, foreign female. I’m not tormented but I’m not oblivious to reality. I spend so much of my waking time being brave and creative that my dreams are sometimes violent, abnormal, and expressive of my insecurities/fears (which are related to my weaknesses).
…One of the teachers at my school was a character in the nightmare. I always feel strange and uneasy seeing or meeting someone who has played a less than flattering role in my dreams for the first time after dreaming of them. This teacher happened to be the first person I saw this morning upon arriving at school.
…My first period class was supposed to start narrative today. However, twelve of the twenty students were leaving for a camping trip, about which I had no idea until they were hauling their packs toward the van and waving goodbye. Sigh. This is supposed to be an “effective” week.
…Luckily, I had a nice first period with the eight girls who stayed behind. We arranged the desks in a small cluster, chatted, played a name game, listened to an Indonesian song off my computer and translated it into English, and sang “My Heart Will Go On” by Céline Dion. An hour and a half of speaking almost entirely in English with a handful of charming, smart ladies. Delightful! I think the best language practice is direct on-the-spot non-scripted conversation, so it wasn’t at all a waste of time. I didn’t get to do the curriculum stuff that I had planned, but so it goes. The curriculum only really matters to my counterpart, anyways. It matters minimally to me. Ha!
…Second period. Full class! We got to start the lesson I had planned: reading the first half of a short Indonesian folktale that explains the practice of banging pots and pans and making all sorts of ruckus during an eclipse. The lesson went extremely well, a victory considering most of it was modified from the original plan to fit the needs of that class, the lowest in terms of English language ability. I am still barely treading water with the whole “now you’re a foreign language teacher” thing, so the modifications were done on the spot because I had no way of knowing how they would react to the initial plan (other than that they wouldn’t be able to handle it since it gave my advanced class the run around). When all was said and done, I didn’t lose anybody, I think they felt pretty happy and proud of themselves, and my counterpart was as satisfied as I was. Plus, my counterpart and I have this sweet system in place for her to practice her pronunciation (if we have a reading activity, I do the first run-through, and she reads the second), which we got to use today. Great!
…Wednesdays, after second period and between the start of extracurriculars, I have a four hour break. This means my counterpart and I have an amazing amount of time to do some planning and discussing. However, we don’t have an office or a private place in which to do this because the teachers’ room is a shared space. Due to cultural differences regarding the propriety of approaching conversing people, it is very difficult to get any substantial amount of work done. This is especially frustrating because of the sensitivity of most of my conversations with my counterpart and the need for us to have as much time as possible to ensure we are in agreement and have mutual understanding. Also, there’s a certain difference in social decorum amongst Americans and Indonesians that causes extreme irrationality on my behalf and this difference was very prominent in the teachers’ room today. I won’t go into any details for fear of being rude—it’s really just my culturally trained reactions that are doing the talking, anyways. People are just people…which is why I have to be patient but is also why I was so enraged this afternoon.
…I have no idea what I’m doing.
…I get real cheesed after I get on the internet. I get real bitter because I feel overly nostalgic and forget to stay present. That gets me down. Plus, the internet at school is terribly unreliable: frustrating. I also feel bad for wanting to get on the internet so often, though I’m only at about once a week these days.
…I chatted with Becky for a bit, though only just. She’s in South Korea and has been for a couple years, teaching middle school English. She’s returning to the States in a couple of days but she’ll be coming back to Southeast Asia early next year. She told me some really interesting stuff about South Korea, including that it has one of the highest suicide rates of any country in the entire world. I don’t yet understand why but I want to know. Anyways, I’m hoping to go to South Korea sometime next year to visit Hope and Becky (Hope was in my cohort in college and she’s teaching English in SK, too, and I’ve known Becky since middle school) and want to tell them about each other.
…I am not really qualified to do what I’m doing.
…I had a nice meeting with the half of the advanced seniors where we used the fancy language lab headsets to have a chat and listen to The Beach Boys. I love teaching unstructured extracurricular activities!
…My counterpart executed the lesson I had demonstrated earlier with the other half of the advanced seniors and they enjoyed it, or so they told me. I didn’t get to see her teach but I’m sure she did a great job. I feel so fortunate to have such a willing counterpart who likes what I’m doing enough to try it herself. It’s an overwhelming feeling to have a teacher with more than ten years under her belt change her practices based on my unrefined, still imperfect practices…not just because it’s flattering but because it makes me realize how much my presence (and that of the Peace Corps) is needed but more importantly wanted.
…My Peace Corps buddies are always willing to lend a listening ear. I was given permission to call in the middle of the night if I need to the next time I have a nightmare.
The charming world of Indonesian TV commercials:
*Advertising the deliciousness and easy-to-eatness of a brand of sausage by demonstrating that it can be easily and happily gnawed on by a toothless grandpa.
*Food will certainly sell better if fat children are shown pigging out on it, getting it all over their faces and mouths—which are always afforded a close-up—in the process. It doesn’t hurt if the fat kids are jumping on the bed, shirtless.
*Women who caress and kiss bottles of ketchup after their husbands sneakily eat the family’s entire fried chicken dinner because the ketchup was so delicious.
*Men dressed up in pineapple suits, rapping in bahasa Indonesia about delicious juice. Rasa spectacular-lar-lar-lar.
*Hyper-sexualized young girls eating cheese-filled wafers and seductively batting their mascaraed eyelashes after they take a bite off the end. Seven or eight years old.
*American/Western brands coming up with special slogans or product names to suit (target?) the Asian markets, such as Nivea “Happy Time” body lotion.
*Hundreds of faces contorted in orgasmic ecstasy over instant noodles (though they are pretty good here compared to Ramen back home, but still).
*Celebrity couples endorsing bar soap in a commercial later banned due to their involvement in a sex tape scandal (that may land them in jail for twelve years). Celebrity couples endorsing powdered coffee drinks and baby formulas.
*Women who dance in the streets because of a brand of laundry soap whose motto is “Thank you, women of Indonesia.”
*Imams who endorse vitamin supplements and pray to God that their product will help you.
*Astoundingly racist depictions of American Indians, Africans, Papuans, and Chinese folks.
*Tempe goreng, tempe goreng, tempe goreng sekarang! to the tune of “Found a Peanut.”
*Tory, tory, tory.
Patience is absolutely necessary for living in a different culture without going crazy. I am surprisingly lacking in patience, of which I thought I had enough to manage this whole thing without any major issues. I guess wasting away eight hours of my life over the past two days sitting in the teachers’ room having my sensitivities grated upon and my patience run as thin as the knees of my only pair of dress pants (thank you, packing list, for being absolutely, thoroughly, completely, totally inaccurate in every single way) has pushed me to the edge. I know I’m the odd one in this situation and that cultural differences are the cause of my stress, not individual people or hearts or souls. Still. I feel like my head might explode.
Something interesting happened today between me and my counterpart. I taught the advanced class a very difficult and challenging lesson earlier in the day and apologized to them at the end of class because I failed to prepare an adequately challenging lesson; the time it took to explain the activity and clarify instructions was not worth the educational benefits of the activity. So, being as I see it as my duty to prepare lessons that are at an appropriate level, I apologized to them. I felt bad that I couldn’t clarify because my language wasn’t sufficient and for anticipating that the activity would be easier or more familiar than it was (the activity was a metacognitive exercise to elicit reading strategies). Later, when class was over, my counterpart said to another teacher, “Miss Martin apologized to the students today.” She was surprised I had done this. I explained why I apologized and she said, “Normally, if the students don’t understand, I get mad and leave.” Luckily, this started a very interesting and fruitful discussion about what to do if students don’t understand and what’s more important: teaching what students can understand or teaching the curriculum.
Strange day. I woke up at 4:45 this morning to a teary Ibu Mama and Ayah. They hadn’t slept all night and I didn’t realize it. They explained that their daughter in Jakarta had her baby at eleven last night, by caesarian. She wasn’t supposed to give birth until Idul Fitri which is still a month from away. They had heard the news from their other daughter who lives on Kalimantan (the large island to the north of Jawa). Apparently, the new mother was too afraid to call her parents and give them the news herself. Ayah said that he imagined she was nervous about making them sad. They had decided to leave for Jakarta straight away.
I said goodbye and left for school. Friday “gymnastics” went well…I’m starting to learn the routine but I’m not coordinated enough to nail it all just yet. Still get a lot of laughs. Taught—everything went well. My advanced class listened to some songs and played a conversation game; most of them are still camping so it was nice and relaxed. My favorite regular class enjoyed the activity I had prepared for them, to my extreme delight. The other classes enjoyed it, too, but none as much as this group. The girls had fun and the boys were so excited that they were jumping out of their seats to participate, literally. It was hilarious! We had fun and practiced English…all I can ask for on the shortened Fridays where our class only meets for forty minutes.
On the way home, my counterpart told me that we’ll only teach until ten tomorrow because the kids are getting sent home early so that the teachers can go to some sort of meeting or party or lunch or something. Still not quite sure. I didn’t get a chance to clarify because I was blind-sided with the news that we’ve got the first four days of next week off in preparation for bulan puasa, the fasting month. Gah. Fasting doesn’t even start until Wednesday. I’ve already made plans to teach with my counterpart at her after-school religious education class (during which tiny people study morals and English) on Monday and will hopefully have an adventure with Andy on Wednesday, though I don’t know yet where.
Anyways, I came home and Ibu Mama and Ayah were still there. They had bought a chicken to slaughter and cook to take to Jakarta and also had to deliver some beras and tidings to the family of one of the heads of RWs in my village, who had passed away earlier this morning. Then they invited me to accompany them to the bus terminal and send them off to Jakarta. I went, of course, along with my babysitter (one of my favorite people in the village—she cooks and stays over when my parents are out of town and is one of my nicest neighbors—Bu Yati), and the driver.
We stopped and bought some fruit (including a $5 durian imported from Thailand) before heading back to the village. As we pulled in I noticed a slew of about ten tiny people with backpacks and hopeful looks in their eyes; I had invited them over to study and hang out with me and they were waiting patiently outside my house. Unfortunately, Bu Yati shooed them away, despite my protests, because I hadn’t eaten or napped yet. Admittedly, it was two in the afternoon and I was hungry, but I didn’t want to shoo them off. I made them promise to come back at four later this afternoon. I hope they do.
They did! Nine girls, ranging from preschool to 7th grade. Adorable. We had fun for about an hour and a half practicing the alphabet, numbers, colors, days of the week, and working on homework or unfinished class work. We played a memory game that I made on the spot that was fun but silly because some of the older ones could read through the paper. I’m going to remake it with cardboard for next Tuesday…they want to come back! On one of their vacation days, no less!
The cutest thing was when one of the big ones said the little preschooler had to use the bathroom. I felt silly because I had given them water when they first came and didn’t even think about telling them where the bathroom was (I’m used to working with bigger bladders). I told the tiny tot to follow me and about half a dozen tagged along, including the big one from before; they ran to the bathroom, holding themselves, opting to use the kamar mandi so they could all go at once without waiting in line. They really had to go! My first practical lesson about teaching tiny people, learned and learned.
I have reached the point where everyone knows me, or at least knows there’s a foreigner living in the village who’s teaching at the high school. Walking around in the late afternoons after school is quite a treat. I run into ladies I’ve met before and chat for a big as students zoom by me and holler “Hello, miss!” from their motorcycle seats. Babies generally don’t cry, old ladies (still) grab my rear and squeeze my forearms, and old men give big goofy—often toothless—grins. Lots of the young men get big goofy grins, too, after the double takes; soccer matches are usually stopped if I walk by the field and though I don’t stare as blatantly as they do I don’t fail to notice the handsome ones.
A brave soul from the Islamic middle school (MTsN) came to my house today to chat. I was so proud and I don’t even know the kid. I consider it a fairly huge victory since Indonesian kids are phenomenally shy, teenagers even more so than kids, in my experience. The kid, Mifta, wanted to know if I had a free afternoon to help him and his classmates study English. Of course, I do—Mondays. My only afternoon free! But I told him I’d meet with him and the principal of the middle school tomorrow morning before class begins and see if we can work something out for Mondays. I think all I’ll have to do is get permission from the principal and I can have a middle school English club. I sent Mifta on his way and secretly watched him smile proudly while putting on his sandals and hopping his motor. Tetap semangat.
I’m also going to start “teaching” an “English class” for some kids in my neighborhood, probably at my house, starting next week. I’m hoping they can come over and chill out, play English games, and do other activities related to maybe…health, leadership, the environment, the world, etc. Whatever I can get them to do. I want to try and have them make a dream quilt to hang in the village office; I read about a girls’ outreach program organized by a Volunteer somewhere else in the world and one of the activities was making a dream quilt. Each girl (kid) decorates a square of fabric with pictures and words that describe or depict her dreams for the future. Then, they’re sewn together and displayed in a public place, preferably one frequented by adults and community members who would do well to always remember the kids (such as village officers!). I’d also love to get them talking about trash and recycling, healthy eating habits, and how they can help others in their community. I might try to get them to organize a calisthenics club for their grannies. Maybe we can find a public spot to do the world map or other painting/mural project. I’d love to see them build some scrap-wood trash bins (I might try to get the MAN and MTsN kids to do this, too). I’ll have to see what they’re interested in! Community development stuff is going to be strange because everybody just wants English lessons—I’m thinking the PACA tools stuff will be helpful and interesting but I’m also wondering if project ideas will have been generated mainly by me. I think it’s ok for me to be the source of the first few projects, anyways—whatever gets people thinking about non-English related project possibilities and feeling more comfortable working with me.
Seven thirty rolls around and I can barely keep my eyes open. Did I tell you I stopped drinking coffee three weeks ago? I’m officially substance-free, unless you count refined sugar. And MSG. And Technicolor-dream-inducing malaria medications. And the liberally applied quantity of suspiciously effective bug spray I use each day. As soon as I hit Bali, though, I’ll be slurrin’ the melodies. Here’s to September.
I can’t believe tomorrow’s the day before August. I wish I could get to a dang post office to send Lily’s birthday present.
Some kind of spinning away. I miss you a lot today, extraordinary ladies. We’re together in the near future on our block in San Francisco.
Happy Birthday, Auntie Kim!