Category Archives: friends

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.








Bromo Redux

Long time, no blog! I think I need to face the reality that my blog is now purely a travel blog…

This past week, I visited Bromo for the second time! I went a little over a year ago but didn’t bring my own camera or travel with anyone I knew. This time, I went with baby sis, Miss V, and Miss C (a PCV serving in the Malang Regency). We brought cameras.

If you’d like to refresh your memory of where/what Bromo is, exactly, feel free to read the intro to my first Bromo post. Basically, it’s a national park featuring several mountains and one very active volcano. One rents a jeep and driver and is driven around the park (the main stop is hiking up to see the crater). The park is east of where I live. It is magical; mountaintops at dawn are just magical, and being up so high in the clouds is magical. Stars are magical. Anyway, pictures speak louder than words, and I’m about to fall asleep.



Where would I be without Magical Vriz? Crazytown. My house is almost ready, and I can’t wait to post pics.

Let’s talk about body adaptation processes in the tropics. First, your bowel movements stop and/or speed up exponentially. Then, you’re just extra sweaty all the time forever. Clogged pores. My period this month (started yesterday) is just whacko–probably from moving back to the tropics, might be the nearly full moon, too. Good stuff? Basically immediately healthier skin and nails. Bye-bye, hangnails! Hair would be healthier if it weren’t for the chemically shampoos. Teeth are immediately dirtier because of disrupted flossing routine. (Okay, that’s probably just my own damn fault).

Can I just say, Miss V helped me get my salt lamp situated. I carried this beautiful 10-pound Himalayan salt lamp all the way from the US (checked for security purposes at Detroit and in Jakarta, pulled all the way out my damn bag), and after five minutes of being plugged in last week, the little lightbulb shorted out. Great! V bought me a replacement today, and I’m on cloud nine. She thinks I’m quite loony. Well, I am. But I need my therapeutic techniques for dealing with life on top of all the physical stresses of moving back to tropics-land!

Stare at the salt lamp. Work on my coloring. Keep blogging. Hang out with friends, in person and virtually. Get back into the workout routine. It’s hard transitioning back– feelings of guilt over leaving people behind, anxieties about finishing my research project and getting into the swing of work, jumping right into a whole mess of new things effectively immediately after getting off the plane… I’m so lucky to have such a strong support network here and to have been stubborn enough to bring my ‘silly little things’… essential oils, knitting supplies (most of which I probably won’t use), my banjo, my salt lamp, my special Mason jar, my dang French press (which made it, by the way– didn’t break!). The essentials, you know?

I’m glad I’m not as stubborn about “going without” as I used to be. Life can be very comfortable here.

 The Spiritual Practice of Menstruation: There is so much more to the menstrual cycle than the biology lesson given to explain it, in the same way that there is so much more to sex and childbirth than the mechanics. The menstrual cycle is a cycle to base your life around, in fact your life is based around your menstrual cycle whether you realise it or not, whether you pay attention to it or not. There is magic inherent in the menstrual cycle. Each cycle provides a woman with the opportunity to understand and read the messages her body gives her for any specific healing she needs. Each cycle creates the opportunity for as much spiritual growth and personal development that she could want. Before electricity, women ovulated when the moon was full, and bled when the moon was dark. The pineal gland in our brain sends messages to our ovary, by hormones, to release an egg based on the amount of light our brain senses in the night when we are asleep. At the point of most light in the night, the full moon, we are programmed to ovulate. Ovulating at the full moon means we bleed at the dark of the moon, the time when the energy is more inwardly focused anyway. The average menstrual cycle is the same as the lunation cycle 28 days. Not only are we meant to be synchronised with the moon phases, we are also meant to be synchronised with each other. If you know where you are in your cycle you can much more easily ‘go with the flow’ so to speak. You could even manage your life around it. Start new projects in the first and second week of your cycle. Express your creative urges. Have parties when you’re ovulating, finish off things in your third week. Stay home, and be on retreat when you’re bleeding. In this way you’ll actually be looking forward to your blood coming, and be ready ‘to let go’. The mysteries of the women’s blood by #women #power #sacred #feminine #yin #spiritual #wombman #shaman #mystic #menstruation #magic #embrace #blood #mystery #moon #cycle #weareone

A photo posted by Mystic Rebelle (@mysticrebelle) on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:01pm PDT

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 🙂

Fulbright Conference: Jogjakarta

Every year, AMINEF, the organization that administers Fulbright in Indonesia, hosts a conference for current Fulbrighters in Indonesia (and Indonesian Fulbrighters and Fulbright alumni heading to or already returned from the US). This year, the conference was held in the lovely and familiar Jogjakarta, Central Java…which is lucky for me, since AMINEF is based in Jakarta, and only crazy people like taking a few days’ trip to that mega-mess.*

The three-day conference was organized into two segments: the American and Indonesian grantees were split into two groups on the first day for program-specific sessions, and the second and third days were a formal seminar on society, environment, and education in Indonesia. Most of the presenters in the seminar were senior scholars from Indonesia and the US, and a few of the grantees from my cohort also presented. The majority of the fourteen of us–about ten people, including myself–presented in a less formal setting on Tuesday. It was a little disappointing that we all didn’t get to present in the larger seminar (which was open to the public), but I assume it’s because our topics were only tangentially related to the seminar theme if they were related at all rather than we didn’t make the cut or have an interesting enough project or the right qualifications or whatever. Ha! I didn’t get the explanation (or if we did get it, I can’t remember), but it has something to do with the new AMINEF director wanting to change the conference format…

Overall, I felt by far that the Tuesday portion of the event was the most engaging and exciting. I was so excited to hear what others in my cohort are/were researching; we were all in touch over email in the beginning of the fall semester, but never having met in person made it feel quite distant. I can’t speak for everyone, but there is only one person I’m somewhat close with, and it’s because we happened to arrive in Jakarta at the same time for our orientation and the start of our grants. There are some others who knew one another from language training in Jogjakarta (if you apply for a Fulbright in a critical language country, you can get extra funding to study language before starting your grant. I applied for this but didn’t get it because I speak too much Indonesian…), but I think for most of us it was our first time meeting in person. All of the presentations on Tuesday were incredibly interesting, and I felt really wowed and inspired–also kept thinking, damn, I’m a part of this group??

Just to give a sense of some of the things people are researching: I heard talks on civet coffee production, the relationship between ancient kingdoms in Indonesia and contemporary/independence era nationalism, alternative education, evolutionary diversity in cone snails (or something along those lines–it was complex and I’m not a science person!), captivity/rehabilitation and post-captivity orangutans and their stress levels (measured through urinary and fecal samples), women’s role(s) in organic/sustainable farming initiatives in matrilineal tribes, neuroscience programs and science education in general in Indonesian higher ed., heritage building restoration/preservation, and a few more. One lady is researching/tracking Sumatran tigers and plans to catch and collar five of them. Others are doing environmental research and looking at land degradation, palm plantations, and resources exploitation. All of the projects are fascinating and so different from one another. Lots of fields and disciplines are represented in the cohort, and it’s great!

The only bad thing about Tuesday was listening to the horror stories some people were telling about their research permit, data collection, and instrument/equipment struggles. Many of the student researchers are scientists and need to take samples of biological material back to the US for analysis in labs over there since adequate facilities aren’t available here and/or it will take a longer amount of time to do the project than what the grant allows. Most of the researchers doing scientific research have to spend tons of money on buying specialized equipment or paying extra baggage fees to get it from the US to here when they come over, though their grant monies are just the same as mine (and all I need is a computer and a cell phone / digital voice recorder). Certain researchers are having a hell of a time getting their permits in order to even get an adequate number of samples to validate their results, and others are having trouble getting permission to take samples out of the country. One lady was held back five months in getting her permits. This sucks on many levels, particularly because everyone in the cohort but me and my friend from orientation is enrolled in a doctoral program (or doing post-doc) and are actually–unlike me–on an academic timeline for completing their dissertation. It’s a shame that they’re experiencing difficulties.

I’m know there’s a long history of foreign researchers coming and abusing the country and stealing material, samples, etc etc from Indonesia and heard recently that foreign firms sometimes hire students as interns and use them to illegally transport materials out of the country, but giving problems to student researchers with Fulbrights isn’t the solution to these problems. We do actually care about Indonesia and want to teach other people about it through our work and engage with Indonesian academics…goes without saying perhaps that we’re not in the business of stealing from the country for our own professional gain. All of the student and senior scholars I met at the conference were incredibly passionate about Indonesia–preserving its natural resources, documenting the lives of people here, protecting and helping animals and conservation efforts, seeking understanding of the complex eco- and cultural systems, etc. It’s just a shame that history makes the present so difficult for some of us…and even though I do think that post-colonial countries have to be particularly vigilant about foreign interest, it seems that Indonesia would do better to look at the hundreds of multinational corporations–especially in the extraction industries–abusing this country and make things more difficult for them rather than wasting manpower and economic resources giving researchers the runaround. But it’s easier to make money off business than academia, and I think that’s why so much else slides; I can see how if there’s no tangible ($$) benefit from the research it’d be easier to focus on the drawback…as in, you’re gonna use this to get famous or published in your country and leave us with nothing, so why should we let you do that? I totally see the logic, but…from an academic perspective, it’s rubbish. It reminds me of when I arrived in country and the AMINEF director at that time wanted me to shift the focus of my project to researching the increasing commercialization of traditional medicines and their entry into consumer markets; there’s something to be said about knowledge for its own sake, and when other interests get thrown into the mix, other parties put themselves in the precarious position of devaluing knowledge for its own sake.

I do think there should be a stronger push from within Fulbright and AMINEF to encourage greater collaboration with host country academics to boost the benefit for Indonesia and host institutions and to make sure that knowledge about Indonesia in Western academia is more frequently co-produced by Indonesian scholars. This was one topic of discussion during the Thursday session at the conference, and it was nice to reflect on and discuss together. Indonesian academic and other non-Western academic publications in general don’t get as much “air time” as publications by Western scholars in Western publications, even internationally-focused ones…this is wrong, of course, but it’s reality right now, and one way to change it is through collaboration and co-creation of new projects and knowledge. But back to the problem of hassling student researchers; I don’t think that targeting student researchers and making executing their research projects (for which they already gained approval from the Indonesian government) difficult is going to foster mutual collaboration and growth between academics across cultures. All it’s going to do is dissuade young academics with passion for Indonesia away from coming here to conduct research…and for crying out loud the US government is paying for us to do this anyway.

The Indonesian government makes money off of Fulbright anyway because of our permit and visa fees (which aren’t minuscule, especially if you think about how many people are coming through each year in addition to the ETAs and senior scholars; I have spent about $400-500 on permits and visa fees so far for the grant, if not more…so multiply that by about 75 people per year maybe? And the fees the Indonesian Fulbrighters need to pay to get their passports in order to leave to the US? Maybe it’s a small amount, but I’m sure there’s more revenue from taxes or other fees AMINEF needs to pay…blah blah blah. We’re not giving nothing to the government, at the very least, and it’s a reliable annual free funds generator. Right?). And we help the Indonesian economy by bringing our dollars here to spend. I’m sure I sound entitled–Indonesia shouldn’t make troubles for us!–but really, we love Indonesia, we love our work, and we want to do good. Uh, and we’re students. We’re not very wealthy and we do have to make professional progress for our own livelihoods. I get that there are power dynamics at play and research can be exploitative and the government has to look out for its natural resources and its population, but…but. But. But. Can’t everyone just look out for each other? Can’t the government look out for promising young scholars of whatever nationality with deep love and interest in Indonesia, because ultimately the more people doing important work here (hopefully with Indonesian counterparts), the better? More interest, more research, more international funding, more support for college students and scientists here, more education, more engagement, more international attention and respect, more Indonesian scholars travelling abroad and representing their country.

Ranty rant! One of the student researchers said that the government is keeping track of all of our blogs. I hope that’s the case, because if someone is reading this, then I can feel a little better about the lack of response to my legally obligatory quarterly reports that I sent to the research ministry. At least someone somewhere is hearing what I have to say, maybe! I just feel bad; I haven’t had any issues with my permits or anything. I had to modify my research plan once I realized the bureaucratic hoops I’d need to jump through to do research in more than one regency, but it wasn’t a major complication and ended up helping the logistics of my project re: grad “assistants”…but I don’t have anyone telling me I can’t take my interview recordings or transcripts out of the country or anything like that. That would be terrible. From what I heard this past week at the conference, it seems like it’s hit or miss–some people have troubles based on their topic of research and what they want to take out of the country, sure, but also what time of day they call or visit the requisite offices and with whom they end up speaking. No consistency, and it’s the grantees who suffer (alongside Indonesia). Why?

The content of the Wednesday-Thursday sessions was interesting, too, although I wish the conference topic had been more germane to my field. It’s hard to sit through sessions and maintain active attention for hours and hours on end, even with knitting in hand, if it’s not pertinent or at least tangentially pertinent. Sadly, I spent a lot of time forcing myself to be interested and engaged, and that’s not a fun feeling. I think it was a lot of stimulation and socialization, and you know that can be overwhelming to me. Anyway, it was nice to meet senior lecturers from both the US and Indonesia whose regional research interest(s) overlap with my own, and the side-chats I had over those two days with people over lunch and between sessions were great. I don’t yet feel super connected to the tiny part of the academic world that focuses on Indonesian studies, and that was remedied somewhat. I know that if I continue graduate school and study with an Indonesianist this feeling will change, of course, but it was refreshing to feel stimulated and energized about my project and the region of interest (not that I’m not energized or stimulated by Indonesia; I’m speaking of Indonesian studies in the formal sense, and since I still feel I’m on the periphery since I hadn’t had formal exposure to Indonesian studies prior to this, it feels hard to get a grasp on, at least on my own).

I think this is all I want to say right now; I’m going to write another post about my research and my research presentation as well as what I’ve been up to recently. I think this post is long enough and photoless enough to just post and get it over with!

Thanks for listening! I’ll let you know if I have anything else to say!

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.