What happened to August?


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

  1. Not matching is matching.
  2. Pink-orange clouds in the morning sunrise.
  3. “Oh, Allah.”
  4. Fat, very smooth babies with highly pinchable cheeks.
  5. Tim-Tams.
  6. Steppes of rice paddies.
  7. Cold afternoon mandis after a sweaty morning of teaching.
  8. Opening bottles of Fanta with a screwdriver and a hammer because that’s how my host dad taught me.
  9. Secret window treats.
  10. The electric mosquito-killing tennis racket that has probably saved me from dengue fever more times than I’d care to know.
  11. Gigantic wristwatches.
  12. Food in banana leaves.
  13. The shallot-shearers and their friendly, daily waves on my way to and from school.
  14. When my adik watches me put on mascara and I’m reminded of being a child watching my mother do her makeup.
  15. Jell-o that’s not made from animal products, but seaweed.
  16. Strange conversations with people who already know me.
  17. Strange conversations with strangers.
  18. Understanding bits and pieces of conversations in Javanese.
  19. Waking up everyday to find my host father praying in the dark.
  20. My students.
  21. Tiny children who take Bingo very, very seriously.
  22. Remembering when to start holding my breath in the traditional market.
  23. Afternoon naps.
  24. Batik everything.
  25. Being constantly surprised and awe-stricken with the work and efforts of fellow Volunteers.
  26. Call to prayer.
  27. Studying bahasa Indonesia by watching Super Family.
  28. Doing laundry by hand.
  29. Rising before the sun.
  30. Focusing my attention, or trying to.
  31. Anticipating mail and packages.
  32. Sambal.
  33. Open-air houses.
  34. Realizing that I’m not that afraid of rats anymore.
  35. Tempeh and fermented cassava.
  36. Making people smile.
  37. Roosters saluting the morning.
  38. Learning that I don’t have to like everybody, be nice to everybody, or please everybody—especially creepy dudes—just because they’re a host country national.
  39. Lots of reading time, early morning and late night.
  40. Mountains, green, flecked with bunches of trees, lined with rivulets, taller than the clouds.
  41. Planks of wood or bamboo across ditches and gutters and the thrills they bring.
  42. Hopping on a bus or an angkota and travelling somewhere alone and being able to get home again.
  43. Walks through the corn fields with the neighborhood kids.
  44. The larger-than-life wind chimes that are bamboo trees in an afternoon breeze.
  45. Jasmine tea.
  46. My host dad’s stories about his family’s history.
  47. Running into people I know when I’m out about town.
  48. Recognizing plants and trees based on the shapes of their leaves.
  49. Being told I’m beautiful at least half a dozen times a day by half a dozen different people.
  50. Skills born of necessity.
  51. Wayang On-Stage (dah dah dah, ch ch ch ch chhh!) and its stunning hostess.
  52. My counterpart eagerly trying my lesson plans and activities by herself.
  53. Teenaged girls in jilbabs driving motorcycles.
  54. Buying fabric and going to the tailor’s house.
  55. Getting picked up everyday by my counterpart and walking or biking to school together.
  56. Crazy vehicles and their fascinating drivers and operators.
  57. Lots of Indonesian and American friends who would drop everything to help me if I needed it.
  58. The Magetan Dhamma center and thinking about being brave enough to go there sometime.
  59. Indonesian pop music, dangdut, gamelan, campur sari, and commercial theme-tunes.
  60. Telling people that not everybody’s white in the US and the discussions about American culture, people, religion, and politics that always follow.
  61. Mortars and pestles made of deep grey stone.
  62. Waria.
  63. Temples, Hindu and Buddhist.
  64. Bargaining.
  65. Long bus and car rides through valleys, hills, and rice paddies.
  66. The thudding of enormous raindrops on the shingles of the roof.
  67. Floor-length skirts.
  68. Learning how to cook again and watching ladies make some amazing things with just a few basic tools.
  69. Sitting down in front of a fan with a book.
  70. The aroma of hot white rice.
  71. Tiny baby girls with golden hoop earrings and bracelets.
  72. Life from a different perspective; things are slower and lighter, people seem less stressed (if not happier).
  73. Getting used to sobriety and realizing I don’t mind it.
  74. Those strange, skinny village chickens and the extremely fat egg-layers.
  75. The timbre of my host mother’s voice when she answers her phone.
  76. Eating with my hand.
  77. Freshly bathed children with white powder on their faces.
  78. Swapping slang with my counterpart.
  79. Recognizing almost daily how much more fearless I am than I was six months ago.
  80. Saluting the Indonesian flag and singing “Indonesia Raya.”
  81. Skype calls from friends and family.
  82. Confirmation of the fact that I don’t want to be a celebrity.
  83. The mental and physical comfort my mosquito net brings.
  84. Those tiny es spoons.
  85. Cheap, delicious, bountiful fruit of all kinds.
  86. Indonesian graffiti and street art.
  87. Smile-offs with small children.
  88. Snack boxes.
  89. Caping.
  90. Scrappy young lads.
  91. Hearing men talk about their children with deep love and pride.
  92. Strange, silly notebooks with mangled English phrases, poems, and quotations.
  93. Vegetable stands strapped to the backs of motorcycles.
  94. Exciting regional variations in culture, cuisine, and language.
  95. Having been in a tropical environment long enough not to sunburn anymore.
  96. Saleem.
  97. Rickety, colorful minibuses that sound like airplanes and seem to go just as fast.
  98. Seeing one of the tallest mountains in the country every day and still being awed by it.
  99. Durian.

100. Making it to one hundred though I wasn’t absolutely sure I could. Thank you, Indonesia!


One thought on “What happened to August?”

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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