22 November 2010

It’s almost Thanksgiving. It’s strange to experience but not surprising that I don’t miss being surrounded by the atmosphere of the season. I’m not trying to say that I don’t miss (or don’t like) the holidays, but there’s less to miss when you…don’t know what you’re missing? I know what the holiday season is like and it’s such a bombardment of stimuli that it’s inevitable that we’re swept up in the emotions and excitement whether we want to be or not. I suppose the thing we like most about the holidays is the feelings of the season and the anticipation of the actual days—I’m not missing the feeling, I guess, and that’s surprising (so how much of the feeling that I’m not missing can be mine in the first place? How much influence are all of those holiday decorations and Elf screenings exerting on my fragile and apparently easily manipulated soul?!).

I love the holidays but being away isn’t as hard as I imagined. I’m sure it’s because my family is doing such a fantastic job of keeping in touch, not guilting me at all about being away, and being supremely supportive and interested in what I’m doing. Great! I wish I could see everyone, of course, but thankfully I have an amazing family of American and Indonesian friends to keep me tided over until my next Stateside holiday extravaganza (and my fingers are thanking me that I’m not knitting like an insane person, as I normally do from September to January).

Sunday morning at 4:15 I rose for my weekly jalan santai with the kiddies, just a nice pre-dawn walk around the village. We took a new route toward the school and went to the next village over, turning before entering the neighborhoods so we could walk through the sawah, or field (mostly rice paddies, cassava, and corn—the most popular crops). The sun was starting to rise as the girls scrambled from cherry tree to cherry tree, climbing up and down looking for fruit, begging me to scour for cherries the high, far-out branches that they couldn’t reach.

The morning was clear and the view of Mount Lawu, the 3,300 meter mountain at the base of which my village lies, was spectacular. The sight was especially entrancing since I plan to hike it on December 6 and could fantasize about reversing the view, looking at the fields from the summit instead of vice versa. The rice paddies, gentle early morning sun, and light-and-dark green of the mountain held me in a trance—I haven’t climbed any mountains since I was on a day-trip to Switzerland when I was on the edge of seventeen and I’ve been in Indonesia far too long for that to still be true! I was locked in the daydream, blissfully oblivious.

We kept trekking along, stopping at every cherry tree along the motorcycle-worn path. Unfortunately, there was a small hole in the ground in which I tripped and twisted my right foot, but I shook it off and kept going, chiding myself for wearing my too-heavy (but highly stylish) Magetan sandals

The girls asked if it was okay to go home by following the river back to the village, and of course I agreed. We climbed down between the rice paddies, squelching our toes in the mud and staggering down where there wasn’t really a path; I handed off my sandals to one of the gals and carefully made my way down, definitely the caboose of the group—substantial, out of shape (thanks, Indo-patriarchy) American women are no match for spry, waiflike Indonesian grade-schoolers who are hyper from the excitement of dragging the aforementioned American woman through the aforementioned squelchy mud paddies.

We reached the base of the ravine and I looked up over the rice steppes and could just see the roof of my school, tiles rusty brown against the pale blue sky. My feet squished deliciously and I thought about how displeased the Peace Corps medical doctor would be to find out I was walking around a paddy barefooted. The kids helped me down the final few steps into the stream and I cleansed my feet in the horribly impure and waste-filled water, cringing on the inside and trying to keep smiling to prevent from worrying the kids. The stones were cool and the stream was shaded nicely from the sun, not yet too hot but definitely high enough that—coupled with the nerve-wracking descent—I was sweating and relieved to be standing in the fresh (dirty) water; Doctor Leo will certainly give me a phone call if he ever reads this (and probably Dr. Lyn, too, wherever she is in this world).

The ascent was steep but manageable. Had to re-route a couple of places that the kids managed to climb but I definitely wouldn’t have been able to—they like running and jumping five-foot ledges and I couldn’t do that without getting filthy and/or broken. We walked through some backyards and said hello to a few ladies before coming back to the main road and heading home.

I decided to relax on my porch with my book a cup of instant ginseng coffee with milk—my new favorite early morning pastime (wow, that’s a lot of adjectives). I read for about thirty minutes before decided it was mandi time. I stood up just as I realized I couldn’t stand up. My right foot was stiff and screaming! I plopped down, gathered my wits, and decided the course of action: first, stay calm. Second, get to my room without being seen hobbling. Third, elevate my foot and watch Glee. Fourth, hope that by 9:00 am I could walk again since I had scheduled a breakfast picnic with the kids.

Unfortunately, at about 8:30, after two fantastic Glee episodes and a lot of thinking about how much I had to take a shower and pee, I realized I had to give it up. My host parents would have to find out I hurt my foot, I’d have to cancel the picnic with the kids, and my day-off plans of late afternoon walk north to explore the next village over would have to be scrapped.

I hobbled out my back door and headed to Bu Yati’s house. Luckily, my house was empty, so I avoided the confrontation that would inevitably lead to my host mother telling me never walk again, anywhere, ever, and never hang out with any children again, anywhere, ever. Lia and Putri (of Mawar fame) met me and escorted me hand-in-hand about halfway to Bu Yati’s house. Even though it’s about fifty feet from my back door to her front door, I couldn’t make it. I sat down and Lia ran to call her mother. By the time Bu Yati arrived, almost everyone on the block was there, very confused and worried.

I told her what happened and she immediately gave the following advice, considering I told her I was shy about telling Ibu Mama: go in your room and be quiet about it, otherwise she’ll get mad at the kids who took you there and probably yell at them.

So I stayed in my room and hobbled quickly to fetch food and use the restroom as needed during the day. Thankfully the folks were in and out all day, giving me ample opportunity to be deceptive and secretive. Glee and Seinfeld kept me company as I stared at my book guiltily and watched episode after episode.

At about 3:00 I got up to take a mandi and realized I couldn’t walk at all, not even a little bit, and that my problem was my foot, not my ankle. This immediately led to a freakout wherein I called Travis, crying, and got some advice; how was I going to go to school tomorrow? How long would I have to be out? Would I have to go to school with crutches? What the heck had I done to my foot to make it hurt so badly? Would I still be able to hike the mountain in two weeks? What was I going to do about telling my host family?

Unfortunately, at about 6:30, I got too hungry and thirsty to stay in my room any longer and I ran out of Glee episodes. I hobbled out to the kitchen and limped down the stairs before Ibu Mama, who was washing dishes at the sink, looked up. “Ya, Allah,” she said as soon as she saw my abnormal non-walking. She said something in Javanese that I can only assume was something along the lines of “Spill the beans, kid.”

And everything was fine. She told me not to worry about going to school and that she’d call a masseuse for me.

So, I stayed home today and had a massage at 6:30 am. The father of one of my village friends helped me out, a nice old man who’s a farmer and masseuse. It was the most painful massage ever, but… It was magic! I can walk again! My foot is cured!! Plus, I don’t feel like a jerk: I read all day and only watched a couple episodes of Seinfeld.







smells of blood

hari raya idul adha / idul kurban


Today was the second largest holiday in the Indonesian Islamic year: Idul Adha or Idul Kurban. It is a time for Muslim folks to give charity to everyone in the community, especially those in need. This is done by slaughtering a whole bunch of animals—mostly goats and cows—and dividing the meat amongst the homes in the village. The celebrations began a few days ago with fasts and last night’s tak biran parade of school children with bamboo torches and traditional drums marked the eve of the hari raya.

I woke up this morning at 4:30 to watch the sunrise and went to mosque at 6:00 with my host parents for the holiday prayer. I stayed for about an hour as prayers were said, greeting some of my friends and neighbors and meeting some new folks. Everybody said that a few goats would be killed at the mosque next to Pak Lurah’s house directly after prayers, so I decided to mandi and head over there in hopes of seeing some of the men at work.

Luckily—unluckily?—by the time I got to the masjid the three goats had already been killed. The men were beginning to skin the carcasses, which hung from ladders and bamboo with ropes and makeshift wooden dollies. The goats were efficiently skinned and gutted by the dozen or so men as a few kids and I looked on. The whole thing was less gruesome than I’d imagined; I have seen a cow go through the same process at a wedding preparation once at my neighbor’s house. The only bad thing was the smell of the blood.

Of course, every part of the animal is used. The skin is tanned for drumheads, the head is made into soup, and even the intestines are eaten (they were opened and cleaned out in the stream in front of mosque, adding to the unsavory odor in the air).

Everyone was excited to have me there to snap pictures, proud to show their skills:

I’m slightly anxious about the cow slaughtering that’s happening at school tomorrow; though I’ve seen dead animals being skinned and cleaned, I’ve only ever seen chickens killed.


Cow slaughtering was fine. Pictures from the past few days below: tak biran, mosque time, goats on Idul Adha, cow/goat slaughtering at school.

Sorry for the lack of organization: WordPress is confusing and I am impatient. Enjoy!

Warning: Some of these are very graphic. Don’t enlarge a photo if you think it looks nasty, because it will only look nastier (I’m not talking about the cute pictures of little girls, either! I’m serious!). That being said, the pictures are supremely interesting and worth a look if you don’t mind getting a little queasy. Take your time and look through them all if you can! xo.


o little cheese head

We traveled to Jakarta this past week because of the Presidential visit. I left Monday a half an hour before school was over to catch a bus to Surabaya; we flew from there to Jakarta on Tuesday morning, all together again, staying at the same hotel that we stayed in way back in March.

Tuesday was spent buying a birthday cake for Sara and Erika, meeting with a principal from a very successful franchise school in Jakarta, and greeting former PCVs and government officials from the education and religious ministries at a dinner on the rooftop of the hotel. At the end of the evening, the vice consul from the Jakarta embassy met with us to discuss our plans for Wednesday: our meeting with the First Lady.

We had found out about two weeks ago that we’d be having a meet and greet with Mrs. Obama as part of the Presidential tour of Asia and attendance of the G20 summit in South Korea. This was the third time we were told we’d be meeting with an Obama—the first time was in March (and was the reason we were hurried into this country with only five weeks to prepare to leave the States) and the second time was earlier in the summer, but that trip was cancelled because of the disastrous BP oil spill.

During IST, a two-week training we had in early September, our country director confirmed that the Obamas would be visiting Indonesia at long last. He wasn’t sure if we’d be pulled out of site and transported to Jakarta because the visit was to be abbreviated and the Peace Corps meeting might be cut from the agenda. Lucky for us, Mrs. Obama’s only planned activity on this trip outside of the President’s schedule was meeting with us!

Our meeting with the vice consul was very strange—a briefing on protocol and etiquette. We were not to shake hands unless the First Lady initiated, we were not allowed to bring gifts of any kind, we were to call her “Mrs. Obama,” and the whole event might have just been that she walked in the door, said nothing, snapped a picture, and left. Nobody really knew how the visit would go. During the meeting, our departure time for Wednesday morning kept changing as the vice consul received text messages—5:15, 5:30, 5:15 am. The Presidential speech was set to begin at 9:00 am.

We woke on Wednesday at 4:00 am to shower and put on our fanciest batik dress shirts. The bus left the hotel at about 5:30 am. We arrived at the university and, with the help of Mrs. Obama’s personal assistant, cut everyone in line to go through security—lots of dudes and ladies with sunglasses and suits and those spirally earphones…secret service agents, a lot of them. The First Lady’s assistant and the vice consul shuffled us through the complex where the speech would be held and off toward the rear side of the building, to a small tent with a sign that said “Peace Corps Event.” We waited, with our country director and the vice consul, for a little over two hours, taking a few minutes with the assistant to arrange ourselves on risers for the photo and killing time with twenty questions and nervously smoothing our batiks and arranging our nametags.

When we got word that the motorcade had arrived at the university, we were asked to take our positions and wait for the “principal” to arrive for the photo. There was a small gap between the tent’s door flaps, and we saw the president after about twenty minutes of standing waiting for the First Lady. We watched him greet a couple folks and thanked our lucky stars that we had a chance to see the President, even if from afar. Meeting Mrs. Obama, certainly right behind the President and soon to walk into our tent, would be amazing. The President walked by the small opening of the tent and we laughed nervously…we saw Obama!

All of a sudden, the flaps of the tent opened and in he walked. “What a good lookin’ group, in your batiks!” he said, smiling.

We were speechless, grinning like fools and shaky at the knees, all of us. He went down the line, greeting each of us, asking how we were, our names, and where we were from.

Lauren and Gio did a good job describing the feelings: Obama is a mesmerizing person and we’ve never felt such a strong physical reaction to someone walking into the room. I’m sure you can imagine he’s got quite a presence and charisma—he’s real good at making eye contact and as corny as it sounds makes you feel real special by paying the perfect amount of individual attention to you, even if it’s just for thirty seconds.

He talked to us as a group for about five minutes, asking about our work and expressing how proud he is of us and how important our service is in Indonesia. We snapped some pictures and the President was about to leave when he realized Ken hadn’t been in the photo; he grabbed Ken and we took a few more pictures.

The whole meeting was about ten minutes long, which is a huge amount of time when you consider whose it is. We filed out of the room and into the hall where the speech was to be held—we had reserved seats off to the right of the stage and we realized that the entire audience was already seated and waiting and had been while we were meeting with Mr. Obama.

We listened to the speech—about democracy, development, and religion—and snapped more photos from afar. We got some explanation from Ken that the vice consul had received a text message the night before saying that the First Lady wouldn’t be able to make the event (his heart dropped) but that the President would fill in for her instead (whew!) and that it was to be a surprise (Mrs. Obama was exhausted and went ahead to the G20 in South Korea since their third event of the day had been cancelled because of its proximity to Mount Merapi). Ken had found out about an hour before the meeting that it would be the President…we didn’t find out until he was in the tent with us. Amazing!

The speech was a crowd-pleaser, just as it was intended to be. The President dropped some Indonesian and Arabic words and phrases, reminisced about his days as a kid in Jakarta, talked about his favorite Indonesian foods, and spent a lot of time stressing the need for Indonesia’s advancement on the global stage and its success as a new democracy and pluralistic majority-Muslim society.

We had a great time. Of course, our placement here is directly related to Obama’s win in 2008 and is highly political given the relationship between the US and the Middle East. Some people may feel that we’re tools of the State first and PCVs/people-to-people peace workers second, but meeting the President was a nice way to pacify those anxieties—the government does need us here and it’s nice to be gratified and applauded given the importance of our work and the difficulties we’ve faced.

A lovely, extremely memorable few days. Thanks again, taxpayers!

(I don’t feel any more special or anything for having met the President, but the experience and the reaction I had to meeting someone like that was pretty great.)

A few photos: Ayah searching for lahron in our front yard– to be fed to the fish, though they are often deep fried and eaten by humanoids; trip with the teachers to a waterfall up on Lawu, on the way to Solo for a day of shopping; morningtime pictures from this weekend’s 4:30 am walk with the gals. Enjoy!