Category Archives: Community

Overseas + friend life

I didn’t realize these were posting to Facebook, but I suppose that’s a good thing; generally, I try to write interestingly but often end up just doing this for myself since writing is one of the best ways– if not the best way– to process new experiences (at least for me), but I guess the gentle reminder that this is a “public” blog will help me be a little more dedicated and thorough. And there’s no excuse for not writing, really, since I’ve got handfuls of free time; hopefully, these posts keep coming regularly.

At the urging of friends, I’ve started to think about doing a book project, but we’ll see; I get so many positive comments about the blog itself, many of which are really too complimentary considering the questionable quality, and it’d be cool if I could somehow turn this into a larger project. But as I said, we’ll see; today, I’d like to do another (effectively) free write about a conversation I had yesterday with my friend Mr. M, a wonderful, thoughtful, and incredibly inspiring person from my Fulbright cohort (and one of the most light-filled, genuine people I’ve ever met).

We discussed many things during our 90-odd minute chat and touched but briefly on the topic/concept (?) of international friendship and relationships, although we didn’t call it this in so many words. Basically, in addition to adapting to all of the basic, basic aspects of life abroad– new food, new bathroom situations, new weather realities, new people (including new friends), and new language/culture (admittedly not so basic)– it goes almost without saying that adaptations occur between oneself and one’s family and friends back home. At the risk of sounding cheesy or juvenile, moving abroad really has shown me who my true family is. This sounds so lame as I’m typing here, and it reminds me of how my PC friends and I used to discuss how the cheesy metaphor “Peace Corps is a roller coaster of emotions” was really the only way to describe the emotional ups and downs even semi-accurately. The same goes here: it’s super cheesy to say, but moving abroad really facilitates true colors being shown, re: friendships.

But that’s not really what this post is about. That’s too simplistic of a concept/observation to bother wasting time with (although I do think there’s something interesting about comparing moving abroad temporarily/finitely, as one might do in PC or with a Fulbright, to really moving abroad possibly long-term and/or without a definite return date, i.e. immigrating or temporarily immigrating– and I won’t say “becoming an expat” since you know that’s a charged term that I really dislike; mainstream Americans would never give Mexican or Syrian immigrants the moniker of “expat”; the term’s charged with privilege and is effectively a racialized term for, in general, white and/or wealthy Westerners who move to the developing world; in the reverse situation, “expats” becomes “immigrants”, since “immigrating” implies leaving/moving for a better life, and who’d ever imagine that a Westerner could find a higher quality of life by moving to a developing country? Plus, I don’t really identify with the wealthy, bubble-living “expat” class here and don’t really want to…– or, even in the moderate/medium-term, establishing a life overseas with no sense of the temporariness of a “stint” or participation in a specific program, which is basically what I’m doing now. There’s a clear additional layer of complexity when the months and years pile on and I get “further and further” from my close friends at home in terms of experiences, re: shared realities. Just as it was hard for me to see the changes my family would go through during Peace Corps because I was so focused on myself, I think there’s a similar risk for friends in the States (especially, honestly, those without international living / immigration experiences who think that strong friendships don’t need pretty much constant tending) in terms of seeing me as a continually dynamic, growing, changing person who has developed another full, real life somewhere else: friends, lovers, family, routines, the humdrum of the day-to-day, responsibility to others (not in the sense of volunteering, but in the sense of really being a part of a community because this is my life, not because I’m needing to be a do-gooder or continue bringing my PCV attitude with me and be actively engaged, etc.). This is especially true when people drop out of touch despite efforts on my part to keep engaging with them. And I’m not trying to point any blame, per se; some people just can’t deal, which I can relate to, since I can’t really deal with America in ways that they perhaps can! Strengths and weaknesses for everyone.

Just this, though: it takes a lot of fucking work to maintain quality friendships overseas, and I don’t think this fact is fully appreciated or talked about nearly enough… or perhaps didn’t fully appreciate this until actually “immigrating” or deciding to continue living here without a 100% firm return date. There are some people who do not or cannot put this work in, and it’s a sobering and sometimes heartbreaking experience/realization.

So, to touch on what Mr. M and, now that I think of it, Ms. C (a glorious PCV friend) and I have been discussing separately over the past 24 hours, personality types and “fits” (as in “fitting in,” not “conniption”) play a huge role in this. But now that I’m writing this out, it seems so obvious; am I generally just stating the obvious on this blog all the time? Whatever. Friendship success depends on our individual personalities as well as those of our friends back in the States, and I think it’s extremely hard to maintain friendships (and some family relationships) long-term AND long-distance when personality types are not harmonious. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to match, but there needs to be a certain give-and-take established from the start of the relationship if it’s ever to survive the trials and tribulations of extreme distance (and time). Mr. M and I both display characteristics of HSPs (and I identify as an HSP), and this absolutely, undoubtedly influences the way I experience my long-distance friendships. I can get easily overwhelmed by the number of texts I get on a given day as I try to keep regular conversations open with people all over, easily frustrated at my perceived inability to give everyone what they want and need while maintaining a regimen of self-care and awareness of my own needs, and easily, acutely hurt when friendships start to fall apart or get rocky, even if the other people/person involved may not have any feelings of the sort (or even consider things to be rocky). The pain involved in realizing someone doesn’t prioritize a friendship in the same way is one of the most worst things I have ever experienced; I didn’t sign up to lose friends, but I have to admit, thinking I wouldn’t lose some friends by moving halfway around the world would be naive, so of course I can deal, but I’m not here to say that mourning is easy or that I really anticipated how deeply I’d feel things… or that I’d want to deal at all.

A (The) hard(est?) thing is thinking about how it’s impossible that I haven’t done this to others, knowingly or not. There have been friends I’ve intentionally pushed away, but I didn’t know what else to do. I simply couldn’t and can’t maintain everything, for one, and second, the effort and letdown process gets really fucking tiring after a while, and I can’t keep up the energy. And it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that someone I care or have cared about must or may feel similarly about me. Of course, the empathy is real, but it sucks being the one, well, broken up with. Since I’m an HSP with a history of being the one breaking up with people in romantic relationships, I think the pain is more acutely felt when I’m on the raw end of a friendship deal; I don’t generally put maximum effort into friendships I don’t see as being permanent or very long-term, and I think this is a normal approach to things that most everyone takes, and having to decipher whether it’s distance or myself that’s to blame for a friendship failure can lead to dark places. Unrequited love sucks. (See why I feel I’m stating the obvious?) But the personality type angle is arguably interesting; heartbreak of all sorts hits us all in different ways, and figuring out how we process things differently or just in general figuring out how we as individuals process experiences and emotions based on core elements of our being is incredibly worthwhile (and perhaps a major aspect of the purpose of our lives). Self-awareness!!

BUT this sad place is not where I wanted this blog post to go, and I think it’s time to shift gears and get back to the nuggets of gold from my convo with Mr. M. I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on the last ten years of my life since I turned thirty a few days ago; it has been a nice opportunity to think about the amazing people I’ve met, places I’ve seen, food I’ve eaten, jobs I’ve had, achievements I’ve made (etc.) in my twenties. I think that overall, I’ve done well, though I had a few huge fights I’m not proud of, had some questionable drinking habits at certain points, and probably had one too many meaningless flings with too many meaningful people. I had my heart broken a couple of times and did the same to others. I made some stupid financial decisions and took some jobs and chances that I maybe shouldn’t have taken. I changed my eating habits a lot, often extremely. I made some sacrifices and moved to Southeast Asia three times.

And of course, lots of good stuff happened along the way, too. As I look back on pictures and memories and see what pulls my heartstrings, though, it’s not about the food or nature adventures or snapping the best pic or catching the coolest performance or exhibit or cultural event– it’s always about the people. And this connects to my conversation with Mr. M since the theme of our discussion was, on a very general level, growing up. That real growing up that seems to be, or so I’ve gathered, a never-ending process that only starts as soon as you think you’ve grown up.

Back to people. What I never could have anticipated when joining PC, going to grad school, accepting my Fulbright, continuing at UMM, and probably even now, moving to Jakarta, were the amazing friendships I’d make. Of course, logically, we know we‘ll make friends when embarking on new life chapters, but I think that younger people– or at least, my younger self– tend to focus on the things that seem more impending: making a difference, teaching, learning a new language, doing projects, taking pictures, having adventures, etc.– in other words, the arguably more salient aspects of jumping into life abroad and all that comes with it. And of course, making new friends is always on the radar, but it’s just so miraculous to look back and really understand what I was getting into by joining these programs and making these choices; I didn’t join specifically to make friends, but making friends– the specific, amazing, wonderful people I’ve met– is, ultimately, one of the best outcomes of what I’ve done up to this point, when perhaps, at the beginning, I thought other outcomes would be the most important. Having a picture of a nice mountain or beach is great, but having a picture of a nice mountain or beach with a friend who eventually would become a huge or even permanent part of my life is what’s really special. Making and falling in love with friends and friendships is a beautiful process, and I feel that I’ve been very lucky in my life and in my twenties in particular to meet more true friends than I can count on one hand. Out of the hundreds if not thousands of people I’ve crossed paths with over the past ten years or so, I never could have anticipated the profound joy of seeing my life unfold in terms of friendships and chosen family, despite the sorrow incurred along the way. And it makes me so excited to see what’s next for us in Jakarta. At this point, this birthday time, looking back at the smart, talented, caring, funny, deeply intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve met– not even all Americans or all Indonesians, by any stretch– is what brings me the most happiness. And I guess it’s part of growing up to realize that this is how it’s supposed to be. I’m still young, but I think I’ve got a much better perspective on myself and my friendships than I did a few years ago and definitely value the person-to-person aspects of life more deeply than ever before… even if it’s a surprisingly vibrant but still very new friendship built and cultivated from a distance, right Mr. M? I don’t think I’ve mentioned, but I’ve only seen Mr. M maybe… twice, in person? You see why I consider myself lucky; it can be hard to forge deep connections while living abroad and in big cities (even domestically) since by nature these scenes are transitory, but that’s also part of what’s driving my excitement and passions: I just really don’t know and can’t even anticipate the exciting people I’ll meet and potentially strange friendship-building processes we’ll experience together.

And as for that sorrow, I think the pain is eased by this very realization: the future really is limitless and full of potential. Each person is a new reality in and of themselves… and now that I’m living in the third largest megacity on earth, who knows what new people will come into my life, potentially for good?

There’s more in my mind about this subject, but I think this is a good start for now. Thanks for reading. ❤


PS: Thank you, technology.








Campur-campur (All Mixed Up)

So many emotions today!

First off, I got into the house I’ll be renting for the next year. It is still quite disheveled and empty; this week is going to be hectic as I start working and try to organize things. It’s making me feel a little nuts, but there’s already a light at the end of the tunnel. We worked out water and locks today and bought some shelves. Just a little ways to go: buy a stove top and bed, clean things up, and then I must unpack. I have lovely neighbors. Really cute ladies with even cuter kids and husbands who fix the pipes of my house. Ha!

Second, culture shock! It always happens. Lost my cool at about 5:30 pm today. A lot goes on: switching back to bahasa for most of the day (mental exhaustion), readjusting physically to foods/heat, being back in center-of-attention land, not yet being able to be independent (housing and transportation not yet settled), etc.

Third, gratitude. I’m so excited to see friends and to be starting my jobs. I’m glad I’ve got a good support network at home and here to help me. So glad I made the choice to push myself out of my comfort zone and try this on my own. Glad for connections old and new, devoted love and caring, kind attention, and technology that lets me get in touch with everyone in a heartbeat.

Feeling super groggy and exhausted; tomorrow’s a house-organizing and workday (lesson planning and tutoring). Still feeling pretty good about a daily post. A photo of me and my favorite new neighbor ladies!


PS: Meaty thought of the day: code-switching for cross-cultural integration/harmony (assimilation? adaptation?) purposes is an act of giving, which means there’s nothing wrong with taking time out for self-care, rebooting the system, re-charging the battery, whatever. We make the choice to be responsive and reflective, reactive and attentive, patient and respectful, open-minded and open-eyed. It takes energy, and it can take a lot out of us. What it gives us in return helps make it worth it.

Difficulty at the beginning works supreme success. –I Ching (Book of Changes) 

Parting Ways…in the best way

As I mentioned before, the Malang ETAs Sarah and Grace have recently left, and Ale went to Thailand and won’t be back until after I’m in the US (and then she’s leaving before I come back in September). Grace is coming back for a second Fulbright year in the fall, but she’ll be in Bima, Sumbawa, Nusa Tenggara Timur, rather than Malang, and that’s a whole string of islands away from Java. Thankfully, however, none of my other friends (except ONE really important one) are leaving, and so I get to continue spending time with them–totally selfish sentiment, but gosh, I can’t stand any more goodbyes!

The crew (minus Grace) got to spend a few happy days travelling together in celebration of the ladies’ departures, and these are some of the photos.

Sorry for the lateness of uploading these. You probably didn’t even notice, but it took forever. The universe was against me on this one; everywhere I went, the upload speed was dead slow. So annoying! Magically, though, and without explanation, the situation corrected itself (that’s how it goes here), and now the pics are uploaded. Fun fun fun!!! I’ve just included stories in the captions mostly, so I’m sorry if it’s messy and confusing. I’m sure you’ll pick up what I’m puttin’ down.

First set: Tea plantation. We visited the Kebun Teh, a little up the road from Malang towards Surabaya. It was a beautiful place, and we had some delicious breakfast there (rice with veggies, tempeh, and peanut sauce…it really never gets old) and took an obscene amount of pictures. Especially selfies. And a lot of pictures of people jumping around. We were lucky that Sarah’s little sister Grace (not ETA Grace) was visiting Malang and could join us on this trip!

Second set: Selecta Park. This is a touristy destination that’s part garden, part amusement part, part park, and part water park. Whew, that’s a mouthful. It’s in Batu up in the mountains where the air is clear and free of motorcycle exhaust. Now that we’re out of the rainy season, we’ve finally got our blue skies back, and this was just THE perfect day, weather-wise, to visit a naturey place!

Third set: Balekambang Beach, site of the beautiful Ismoyo temple, perched on a rocky batu karang out in the ocean. Another popular tourist destination for Malangers, it’s a place I hadn’t been to but had wanted to visit all year (now that I’m a Malanger, kinda!). There are several really wonderful beaches on the south coast, as you may recall, and this one is particularly wondrous because of the temple and the crowds it draws. Luckily, we went on a Wednesday, and it was pretty much deserted. Ate a great meal, took excessive amounts of pictures (Lisa, get me?), and stayed bundled up in my jacket to brace myself against the blustery south seas winds!

Fourth set: Driving around Batu. Just some additional photos from the driving we did to get places. I think most of these were taken the day we went to Selecta.

Final set: Random fun with friends! A few more pics.

I hope that was enjoyable, even if it wasn’t as informative as I’d like it to be! I apologize for not providing enough information– please leave any questions in the comments section and I will reply. BUSY life these last couple weeks, and it’s only getting worse as my departure date looms nearer!!

More intellectually substantive posts forthcoming 🙂

gallery visit – fauna by amrizal

Satrio, Ale, Vriz and I went to a local art show recently. The exhibition was “Fauna” by Sumatran artist Amrizal (pictured above). His work is currently on tour, and we were lucky enough to have him in Batu for a week. The gallery, Pondok Seni – Galeri Raos Batu, was intimate and warm; I hadn’t ever been there before, and I’m beyond happy that Satrio brought us there. The gallery has different exhibits from week to week; I’m sure we’ll go back soon so that I can share more. This was my first time seeing any artwork outside of museums and batik studios–my first glance at contemporary Indonesian art. It was wonderful.

The theme of the exhibition was “fauna” or animals, and each image had a black and white representation of humans and/or animals plus handwritten text in a variety of languages (predominately Indonesian). The text was primarily political and social commentary–the progressive and liberal type that resonates with me personally–but much of it was hard to read. There was some poetry thrown in as well. It was sometimes in accessible because as far as I could tell a lot of it was stream-of-consciousness scribbling, so the artist was writing fast n furious making the letters hard to discern at times. Plus, reading Indonesian is harder than speaking, and I struggled with the language barrier. But, I could understand that there was commentary about economics, capitalism, war (the text below the large eagle was almost exclusively anti-war commentary), education and poverty, history, geopolitics… It was stunning work and invigorating to see and experience. There’s a lively and active punk/anti-capitalist/anarchist/underground scene here, so I wasn’t totally surprised by the nature of the exhibition or its content, but it was a little bit of a surprise to find it in Batu, a tourist town with a focus on agriculture and eco-tourism. A pleasant surprise, for sure.

So, I didn’t take a billion pictures, and unfortunately we didn’t get to meet the artist in person. But you can get a quick idea from these pics about what the gallery looked like, what the basic concept of the exhibition was, and some grasp of the general/overall feeling. Next time we go to an exhibition, I will take more notes so I can provide additional (more thorough) commentary; I snapped a bunch of pics this time with the intention of posting them here so you could see what the gallery was like. The artwork was so beautiful and the space was so perfect. I had a wonderful time and felt–as I said–invigorated, like…okay, back to “normal,” ha! This was a really comfortable space for me, and I was so pleased to enjoy it with close friends. I love seeing my own political and cultural beliefs reflected to me across the medium of culture; finding connections with people (artists, friends, colleagues, whomever) at the basic or fundamental levels of worldview or political outlook despite hugely different religious and cultural backgrounds is sublime, in the sense of actual sublimity, not cheesiness. Shared subculture, solidarity. No matter where one comes from or what one’s life looks like, we can find common ground in recognizing and speaking out against common enemies (greed, corruption, consumer capitalism gone wrong, free market economics gone worse, the destruction of war, etc etc). The rest is often just details.

Thanks again to Satrio. Really looking forward to the next visit to pondok seni.
That’s all for now,

Khitan: Coming of Age

So, I haven’t been to a circumcision party in a long time, but I went to one this week! I used to go to circumcision parties all the time in the Peace Corps, but, now that I live in the city, it is a rarity for me to get invited to one (largely because I don’t live with a host family, I think). However, I got an invitation last week delivered to my boarding house, and I was stoked to go and celebrate with the family.

Circumcision parties happen in two forms here, in my experience: one where the kid is snipped right before (or sometimes during) the party and has to sit wrapped up in a sarong atop a pillow for the duration, and one where the kid is snipped several days or even a couple/few weeks before the party and the “party” is just a reception where the kid and his family receives guests (menerima tamu). Normally, in the village, the circumcision party is of the first variety. The one I went to this week was of the second. The young man of honor was a little boy I’ve been visiting occasionally to help him boost his conversational English skills.

I met the family when the father approached IRO looking for a native English speaker to hang with his kids, and Mas T hooked me up with the connection. The family is really lovely, and they treat me to a tasty meal every time we meet. I speak English with all of them; the dad’s a prof and the momma is an English and maths teacher at the local Kumon education center. Their eldest child is a sweet and thoughtful high school girl with a speech impediment (which has caused her to endure a lot of teasing here, as collectivist cultures tend to value conformity and ridicule those who stand out, especially in adolescence…although kids with lisps get teased a lot in the US too, of course). She likes the band Evanescence and loves to travel. Their youngest is a sassy, sassy boy who’s in 4th grade. He loves his iPad, eats nonstop, and speaks great English for his young age. He’s also a maths champ!

So, it was his circumcision a few weeks ago that we were celebrating this week. Last time I saw him, I asked him whether he was nervous and how he was going to cope with the procedure. He said well, I’ve got a plan–I’m just gonna bring my iPad and play games. No big deal. Ha!

An Islamic rite, the circumcision ceremony is called khitan. Age of circumcision depends on the country/culture context. Here in Indonesia (and as far as I know also in Malaysia), it occurs sometime prior to puberty but after age 5-6. Female circumcision also happens here and is known as an adapted or adopted Arab custom, although it’s not as widespread as in some African countries like Egypt and Somalia. Usually it happens at birth or in infancy for girls.* Circumcision of any kind is not directly mentioned in the Qur’an as a requirement or obligation, but it is mentioned in the hadith (the narration of the words and actions of the prophet as witnessed by those around him during his life, saved so that Muslims can behave virtuously through mimicry/embodiment) and sunnah (practices and beliefs the prophet himself, directly, taught Muslim adherents to follow).[1]

At the reception, our newly chopped friend sat on a special bench in front of a huge poster with his face on it and received guests for photos (and gifts). We had a lot of tasty food, listened to some beautiful live singing including songs by various family members brave enough to take the mic, and heard speeches from important family members like grandpa, mom, and dad. It was a lovely event, the climax of which was the little boy reciting some Qur’anic verses for the audience. (I want to upload a video, but I can’t figure it out. Sorry. Next time.)

At the end of the party, the little boy just broke my heart with his happiness at my attendance. He so sweetly asked “When are you going to come and see us again?”, really just melting my heart. He’s sassy and spoiled, and I just love him. I was glad to have gone and supported him, and meeting the extended family was lovely. This party was much swankier than anything I’d ever seen in the village, but the feeling of happiness and pride was just as palpable, and of course the tea was just as sweet.

That’s all for now; just a brief little post and a few pics. I hope you learned something new!

*In the mid-2000s, female circumcision (female genital mutilation or FGM) was made illegal by the Indonesian federal government (even though later federal guidelines outlining safe methods and techniques for female circumcision to local health facilities contradict the federal position towards it). I think any tampering with genitals should happen in adulthood after someone, male or female, can give fully informed consent. Here’s an article on the current state of affairs re: FGM and Indonesia. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world, and FGM occurs widely and is supported by some major Islamic social organizations here despite its dangers to women’s physical and psychological (not to mention sexual) health and isn’t even prescribed by the Qur’an.


At a Glance: Dukun, Kyai, and Mental Health in East Java

A man who lived a few houses down from Mas M killed himself this week. On the day, he helped his child get ready for school, dropped her off by motorcycle, came home, wrote his suicide note, then hung himself.

He wasn’t a poor man, though he was unemployed; his wife sells vegetables, and the family survives solely on her income. There were troubles in the marriage. She had recently demanded a divorce. His suicide note was addressed to her: if you want a divorce, here you go: divorce–dead.

The news of the man’s passing made the papers and was featured on the local evening news. The neighbors are still gossiping about the amount of blame to place on the wife’s shoulders in the matter. Mas M is convinced that the man had an ongoing psychological issue, and I’m inclined to believe him since I can’t fathom a parent of a young child taking his or her own life and being mentally stable at the time.


I don’t have statistics because the annual federal reports about healthcare in Indonesia that I have read focus primarily on more seemingly more pragmatic healthcare concerns like clean water, basic medical and nursing services, dental care, and infant mortality and health. Mental health is problematically but understandably not at the top of the lists of concerns in developing countries, and it’s not given nearly enough attention worldwide since mental illness and psychological disorders can be so invisible.

Even though I can’t quote stats for you, believe me when I say that mental therapy, counseling, and psychiatry are not widely available here in Indonesia when compared to a place like the United States. At the very least, mental health care options are not widely advertised or promoted as a normal or acceptable path to health and well-being. This is partially because modern mental healthcare hasn’t become part of the culture here yet (i.e., this isn’t because everyone knows about modern mental healthcare and rejects it outright).

The man who killed himself was undoubtedly suffering from something like acute stress or depression, undoubtedly psychologically burdened by his lack of gainful employment and his crumbling marriage. In Javanese culture, all three of these things are very looked down upon, particularly for men: divorce leads to gossip and divorcees can be shunned; men should always be employed, especially fathers and husbands, if they want to be viewed as respectable and contributing members of society; and family members of people who commit suicide are often implicated as being somehow off, wrong, or not right (i.e. implicated in not providing a supportive enough environment for their family member not to kill themselves, regardless of the family member’s mental health status or the actual home and family environment).

Many of the dukun I’ve been talking to help people with more than physical health issues, finding lost objects, matchmaking, or pregnancy and birth; they often also provide psychological and couples counseling, relationship and family advice, and mental/emotional support during difficult times. If someone is going through a rough time in their lives–feeling like they need help getting their crops to grow successfully so that they can eat and earn money, worrying about their lovelife going to hell in a handbasket, or finding difficulty coping with a serious illness like cancer or diabetes–they usually receive some level of counseling and mental health support when they pay a visit to a legitimate dukun,* even though this is not the primary purpose, in their minds, for the visit. This is a good thing not only because mental health care professionals are hard to find, particularly in rural areas, but paying for professional help is usually quite far outside the realm of financial possibility for the average Javanese villager. In fact, the unaffordability of modern medicine for some segments of the population is one reason why the services of dukun are still in high demand in some areas (mostly those that are more remote).

For coping with psychological issues, most villagers seem to rely heavily on religious leaders, and the general culture view of mental illness in that someone has strayed too far from religion and therefore has too many thoughts or wrong thoughts (which lead to wrong action, which leads to strife and tumult). The kyai is an Islamic cleric and religious leader who also offers healing services, and many villages have more than one depending on the size of the population and the strength of the religious culture in the area. As dukunkyai can be men or women, though women kyai work primarily with female audiences/visitors. They use religious teachings and spiritual counseling to help people overcome their problems. They often prescribe lifestyle changes, encourage prayer, and promote fasting, charity, and adherence to Islamic doctrine as interpreted by whatever Islamic organization/”denomination” of which they are a part.

What is interesting is that kyai, by and large, do not believe in the practices or validity of dukun, though the reverse is certainly not the case, especially when the dukun is Muslim. For the more orthodox practitioners of Islam, belief elements of the supernatural beyond standard Islamic cosmology are unacceptable and can even be heretical. For example, belief in both benevolent and malevolent jinn is standard, but the existence ghosts and ancestral and place spirits–even from Javanese cosmology and mythology–is strongly questioned. However, a villager could consult a dukun on a Saturday and visit a kyai on a Sunday for the very same reason and not be bothered by the contradiction in the slightest. The more devout among them simply say “percaya gak percaya,” I believe but I don’t believe. There’s no reason to commit either way if one or both can produce results; the end is more important than the means when well-being and religious righteousness are concerned.


What I have been learning so far about dukun never fails to involve contradictions, and I am going to start writing more about this. I’ve finished collecting data and finally have all of the interviews transcribed, so I’m moving on to the next phase of my project, which is analysis and write-up. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening, so now it’s time to speak and write.

Now that I’m not going to graduate school next fall, the possibilities for what I write and how are even more limitless than before; I’m technically not required to produce a written body of work in any format as a condition of my grant, but I had been aiming to produce an academic article in the form of a comparative piece using data from my thesis and Fulbright projects. However, I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to go any longer. I’ll probably aim to get an academic piece of some kind published, but I’m going to take the rest of the month to decide and explore my options. I don’t want participants voices to be lost and I don’t want to have to cut their stories down into little data-bites to cram everything into a short article, but I don’t want to lose sight of the original goal, which I still think is worth pursuing. I’m just contemplating alternative–additional–possibilities.

In the meantime, I’m going to start writing more and sharing here. Time to get my thoughts and new understandings on the page, and there’s no better place to start. Blank Word documents scare me.


I don’t really know how to wrap this post up considering how heavy the content was at the beginning. I hope that any of you who may have stigmas about mental health care consider reevaluating your ideas about the topic and make sure to support any of your friends and relatives (or yourself) in getting the care they need, if they ever need it, even if it’s just accompanying them to church, the mosque, a healer’s house, or a doctor’s office. There’s no way of knowing the inner workings of someone else’s mind or to know for sure whether any form of external support could have prevented the little girl’s father from taking his life, but it’s too much for a child to have to lose a parent to suicide and too much for any family to deal with.

Thanks for reading,

*There is such a thing as a “fake” dukun or dukun palsu, which is a person claiming to be a dukun and not actually doing anything for clients or someone who really does have supernatural powers (percaya gak percaya!) but whose primary motive in providing services is to earn as much money as possible from unsuspecting, innocent clients who are genuinely seeking help (or those nasty clients who are looking for someone to curse their neighbor or rival).

real smiles

The English language workshop crew at the end of the day last Monday. I love this picture. Every single lovely person is giving a real, real smile, and it warms my heart! Even little Kiki in the corner there is thrilled. From L to R, clockwise: me, Grace (ETA), Nahal (PCV), Ferry (AmCor), Camille (PCV), Sarah (ETA), Heru (AmCor), Obbie (photographer & AmCor student staff), and Kiki, there in the corner (AmCor student staff). Still feelin’ warm and fuzzy when I remember this fab collab. Great work, friends!!