Well, what a time Jakarta has been!
I’m getting ready to fly to Malang tomorrow, and the next steps in this adventure are to obtain the appropriate visa and get an apartment, probably not in that order. If all goes well, I will only have to wait for two weeks for the visa to come through, at which time I can officially start my project. So, I will have two weeks’ time to find and settle into some digs in Malang, do some reading, reconnect with some important people in the area that I’ve been waiting to see, start planning logistics of the project, and eat a lot of gado-gado at my favorite restaurant.
Today, the other student researcher and I finally had some face-to-face orientation from the organization administering the grant. I count it as a big success; why there’s no pre-departure orientation in the States I’ll never be quite sure. We’ve learned a lot of important information recently that ideally I’d have known before departing, but begitulah! We’re well on our way, and things seem mostly under control. The paperwork and bureaucracy isn’t terribly overwhelming, just laborious, costly, and time-consuming. Luckily, during our visit to various ministries and the national police headquarters, we were escorted by our AMINEF contact; I don’t think I’d have been able to find all of the appropriate offices and personnel on my own. At least we’re being helped by people who have gone through this time and time again with Fulbright students. I am grateful!
Our major goals have been to obtain the required permits and letters of permission to apply for out full-term visa and to send to the various kabupaten (districts) where we will conduct our research. Luckily for me, I get to send out a bunch of letters since I plan to travel all over East Java collecting data. Couldn’t have just chosen one location, could I? So far, it seems that the research visa I will obtain in the near future is much more restricted than the teaching visa I had during Peace Corps, which was administered by the ministry of education rather than research; as it turns out, on the research visa, I will not be permitted to do any formal teaching beyond presenting or discussing my current research project or visiting as an invited guest speaker to workshops on research methodology designed by the university counterparts (unfortunately, I can’t design or host any workshops myself). I will be able to use my Peace Corps connections as planned in order to construct a travel plan and conduct participant recruitment, but I need to be very careful about how I do this, and everything has to be discussed with and presented to my university counterparts so that there are no surprises to any relevant authorities or supervisors when I start. I also need to make clear to communities with PCVs that I am no longer affiliated with Peace Corps.
Anyways, that’s the only semi-interesting stuff– I can’t say it’s boring because the inner workings of a highly bureaucratized government on the verge of a change in administration are inherently interesting in a befuddling sort of way, and considering the challenges foreign researchers face in Indonesia is interesting as a novice researcher whose regional focus is this amazing and complicated place! I don’t doubt that this is the only time I will have to go through this type of process, and perhaps things will become easier as these ministries begin to act as academically and internationally open-minded as they apparently claim to wish to be. I hope that more academics from outside of Indonesia can come here for research or educational exchange, especially for research projects in collaboration with Indonesian scholars… we’ll have to wait and see whether the permit/visa process becomes easier in the future (I certainly hope so!).
The very interesting aspects so far are, of course, friends and food. I had a lovely meal with Agnes the first evening in Jakarta, and I just about cried when I saw a friendly face after so much exhausting travelling. We had satay Padang from a street vendor off the main road by my hotel and caught up on just about everything, including each ID-4 PCV, one by one. The next night, after an afternoon pedicure and finally getting a new (smart)phone, my fellow American friend and I met up with Lauren’s host sister and her friend. They are both working on their bachelor’s degrees in computational statistics here in Jakarta, both planning to graduate into immediate employment with the census bureau. I had met Lauren’s host sister many times in East Java and was just tickled to see her again! We all had some spicy nasi goreng from a street vendor in a pasar malam (night market), which we reached by way of a crowded, rat-infested back road behind the shopping plaza where we met. Lauren’s sister was very apologetic for making us walk through the nastiness in the dark: “I did a bad, I’m so sorry!” Still, we had a great time catching up, too, and she Skyped with Lauren after she went back to her apartment. Reunions!
The hotel accommodations here in Jakarta have been perfect; I’m staying in the same hotel I stayed in when I first arrived in Jakarta in March, 2010. I’ve got a western toilet, decent internet, hot shower, AC, and complimentary breakfast with coffee, so what else could I ask for. I’ll be happy to move on to Malang and escape the noise of the city (and the damn taxi fares, sky-high due to unavoidable traffic jams), but parting ways with my new Fulbright friend will be a bummer. Still, I get to look forward to reunions upon reunions over the coming weeks/months, and I couldn’t be more excited at the prospect. I’m very eager to settle down, unpack my suitcase, and see what kind of fun I can have, though I’m enjoying myself quite a bit already just by reminiscing and remembering my previous experiences here (and thinking about how far I’ve come in the past 4 1/2 years). Indonesia smells, looks, feels, tastes, and sounds the same, and, overall, being back is amusing and pleasurable. Bowling Green is starting to feel like a dream; how could it be that I was gone from Java for two whole years?