Am Flak Tengkyu

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.


Selamat Berpuasa

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.

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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s