Category Archives: Settling-In

June thru September 2010

Language woes? Ndeso woes.

Shabbiness will not pass here.

There’s a term here (or at least in East Java; not everything I’ve learned in East Java or talked about on this blog necessarily translates to the rest of Indonesia, which is important to keep in mind when you hear me talk about “Indonesia”… I’m often able to correct myself to say “Java” or “East Java” and “Javanese culture” instead of “Indonesian culture,” but this is becoming more imperative now that I’m in a totally new region of the country with a different dominant ethnic group– the Sundanese– and other groups like Cirebonese and Betawi instead of Osing and Tenggerese…more on this later) for people who are kind of, for lack of a better cultural equivalent, backwoods. The direct translation is an adjective form of “village,” which we might anglicize as “village-y” but might be more easily understood, cultural eqiuvalent-wise, by Americans as “hillbilly,” “redneck,” or “hickish”. I’m sure you can think of other relevant synonym. The Javanese term is “ndeso”, and I think it’s a perfect descriptor of myself in comparison with true Jakartans.

I think that lots of what I mentioned in my previous blog post about language might be connected to this term more than I realized before; once, in America, I chatted with a professor (American) in Indonesian, and he had studied bahasa in Jakarta and spoke in a perfectly trendy and fluent fashion. He commented that my bahasa sounded like I was from the sticks, which I suppose is true in terms of where I come from in the States as well as where my accent suggests I live/lived here in Indonesia (remember that I learned most of my Indonesian in a semi-rural East Javanese village; East Java is definitely “the sticks” as far as non-Jakarta locales go… Jakartans tend to ask everyone that’s not from Jakarta something along the lines of “Which part of ‘the land’ are you from?”, where “the land” is “everything that’s not the city”– there’s the city and there’s everything else). I think that I’ve slowly been realizing this week that people might, just might be commenting on my language because of how ndeso I sound. Of course, I’ve gotten comments about my accent simply sounding Javanese, but I think that perhaps there was a hint of surprise and derision underlying some of these comments that perhaps I hadn’t accounted for in previous attempts to understand why the comments have been so pervasive!! And lucky for me, ndeso applies not only to language but also to personal style; if you’re friends with me, you know I’m not the most put-together person on earth, appearance-wise. I bet you can imagine where this discussion is going.

So, I went to buy a new phone charger at a fancy store, and my shabby self was effectively ignored by the shop’s staff, mostly made up of trendy young people in trendy clothes. I was wearing yoga pants that were wearing at the knees, a loose and ill-fitting tunic with a gaudy black-and-white pattern, and grey/pink/blue jogging sneakers with neon pink socks. My hair was a stringy mess. I think my nose was sunburned, too. The red and blue bag I was carrying matched nothing (especially not my rusty orange scarf). I had on knock-off Coco Chanel sunglasses. Zero makeup. I was grubby, in full effect. And now, I realize my futile attempts to chat with those guys probably made them think I was even crazier than I appeared since my accent is so… ndeso. Uncivilized. Not trendy. Not like what we hear on TV shows from the chicest celebs. I don’t expect to be treated well just because I’m a foreigner or a foreigner who speaks bahasa, but it was strange to feel so… honestly, just low classI was clearly out of my league in this outfit at this mall, and my generally-complimented-on bahasa skills couldn’t even save me. Actually, I felt totally shamed! Nobody did anything directly to shame me or make me feel inferior, but I don’t think an Indonesian would do something like that (as I can easily imagine an American doing). The indirect social shunning was enough!! What would have generally worked in terms of chatting up the staff didn’t fly at all here… I grabbed the charger and bolted, wiping away the sweat that had worked itself up on my brow, fleeing as quickly as I could.

I am clearly a country mouse in the big city. These experiences would happen to me regardless of context if I moved to a big city, since I actually am kind of ndeso, by American standards, even if most of my Malang friends wouldn’t use that term to describe me at all.

Anyway. I got a few new tops and stopped wearing my raggedy yoga pants in public. I fixed my shoe situation and got a nice pair of sandals that would pass as decent by bougie standards. The next time I went to the mall, I put on a bit of makeup. I’m not falling victim here, but I think that I need to step my game up a bit, regardless. Of course, I still laugh a lot on the inside when I see the girls and guys who are trying really hard to be trendy and chic; I can take all of this with a grain of salt, but I do think it’s important, well, not to look like a professional hobo, at least not all the time. This is connected with turning 30, too, I think; I need to be more presentable, in general, perhaps. Ugly duckling!!

The struggle is real, people!! The culture shock continues!



Trusting Indonesia

I have been thinking a lot this week about how much I trust and indeed need to trust in order to integrate into this new setting and context to begin tackling the project I’ve set up for myself here. Life in Malang is, in fact, quite new and different compared to life in East Java as a Peace Corps Volunteer, most obviously because I am living in a trendy college town and relying primarily on myself to meet my own basic needs. The differences between the PCV life and the Fulbrighter/Malang life are many: I haven’t got a lovely host mom cooking for me, I don’t have a safety and security officer or Western-standard general physician a phone call away, and I’m no longer part of a 20-person strong, tightly-knit family of Americans experiencing basically the same thing as I am. However, the newness of this life is teaching me a great deal already.

Friends. First and foremost, I trust and rely on my friends no matter where I am in the world, and I’m learning to appreciate and value my Indonesian friends in new ways. My longtime friends here have already become substantially more involved in my life than they were during Peace Corps, most likely because I have been pestering them for assistance, advice, and companionship much more ardently than I was four years ago. I am lucky to have an established network here, and the feeling of being accepted and welcomed back into the fold is really incredible.

In my experience here, friendship is highly regarded, thus friends are highly reliable and friendship is true, by my own standards. I don’t get the impression that me being a Westerner or an American makes too much of a difference on Indonesians’ ability to befriend and care for me, even if it does make a difference in initial attraction. People here seem to value their friends and friendships to a very high degree, often willing to drop anything and everything if a friend is in need or wants to spontaneously meet up or drop by. I have many other non-Javanese/non-Indonesian friends who behave similarly, and perhaps it is so striking to me now because I feel like the rate at which friendship here ascends from acquaintanceship to something much closer is steeper than I’ve experienced with American friends.

Maybe this is merely my perception and maybe my foreigner status has a stronger influence than I perceive (or am willing to perceive). Maybe this is because cross-cultural friendships can often be more challenging and therefore more intense—as problems/conflicts are met and worked out together—than friendships between friends of similar culture. It could be that I’m in an emotionally and mentally intense place and am therefore experiencing things more intensely (although I don’t think this is the case). Maybe they feel less close to me than I do to them and I’m culturally mistranslating, but the serious content of some of our conversations indicate to me that this may not be the case. Whatever the reason I have been so quickly assimilated into a network of Indonesian buddies, I am grateful.

Being able to trust a good number of people so quickly is a gift. I’m sure my dear professor in the States would remind me that no gift is ever free: there’s always something to be reciprocated. In this case, I hope that’s friendship, too, as well as cross-cultural engagement and sharing. That’s what I’m interested in, really, from all friends—even those who come from a similar background, since culture varies on all levels, right down to the personal (intimate) and spiritual. Every friendship has its own little culture, and can’t personality and values be interpreted as individual culture?

Here, I have to trust my own attitudes and suppositions towards my friendships as well as the instincts and open-heartedness of my non-American friends to be able to bridge communication and cultural barriers and be willing to face any challenges that may arise. I feel that I can trust my friends—and myself—not to run away or bury negative feelings if problems do arise or cultural missteps occur. Through my friends I have a little web of emotional safety, and I trust that it won’t dissipate and that it will help me sustain my energy and spirit while I’m here. I also trust that I can provide strong and positive friendship to others, even if I make some mistakes along the way.

In Peace Corps days, my emotional network was primarily other American Volunteers. But having the cultural knowledge and linguistic skill—and open-heartedness—to shift from an American support network to an Indonesian support network is a good thing. This week, I have been thinking a lot about what “crutches” I used while I was a PCV here. Without a doubt, I watched too much American/Western TV and movies on my computer, even though at the time I felt this was necessary to get into beta-mode in order to reenergize for the next day. Here and now, I have much more reenergizing private time and space, but I am also trying consciously to find energy in Indonesian friends. When I need to zone out, I try books and other reading material rather than TV/movies. I don’t want to denigrate others’ choices—I want to speak for myself: for me, drawing energy from and sharing my energy with Indonesian friends is a big achievement. I have my smartphone and internet connection as an outlet and can text my American friends at any moment, but I can’t deny how please I feel with being able to hang out with Indonesian friends without wishing to just go home and be alone in my room with my TV or go to Surabaya to hang with the other PCVs and eat/drink out feelings. I know it’s a totally different life now and I might not need the same sort of reenergizing as I did before—I am generally less exhausted and stressed now than when I was a PCV—but I have to give credit where credit is due and be honest about how proud I am that I have found a way to “make it work” better: I am a better self for the work I need to do here, and I wish I had had the ability and fortitude to achieve my present attitude when I was completing my service… but it’s all the same journey, really.

I could go on and on about the reasons I think this present mental state is possible—many of my Indonesian friends in Malang are more cosmopolitan and comfortable interacting with and building friendships with foreign people than my friends in rural western East Java, I am more in control about when, how, and with whom I react on a daily basis, and I have a greater amount of cross-cultural friendship experience than I did two years ago, to posit a few theories—but for now I’ll just leave it at this: I can trust that if I feel burnt out, even culturally, the friendships and family I have in my life at the present moment transcend. I have been able recharge with Indonesian friends and believe I can continue to rely on them even in the event of cultural burn-out. In my present mental framework, this is radically different from my PC reality. It’s refreshing and actually quite revolutionary.

Colleagues. I have an Indonesian advisor—as I mentioned in a previous entry—and I am learning to trust my own ignorance of my subject matter and put my ‘faith’ in his knowledge. Pak H is somewhere between advisor and gatekeeper, as he is an herbal medicine practitioner himself and well-connected to the healing community in his home regency in the east as well as here in Malang. I need to suspend my recently realized Western academic superiority complex (I figure it as academic racism) and understand that the academic work being done here, while differently rigorous, is absolutely, positively worth paying attention to and learning from. I think I can learn more from Pak H than I can by reading articles from Western journals that I locate and pore over independently. I never suspected there would be a professor here like him; I remember four years ago thinking he was over-the-top and too intense. But I am humbled here, once again, even more so than by the chicken foot I finally broke down and ate the other week: Pak H is genial, intelligent, articulate, and really much more of an expert than I ever knew to give him credit for.

With Pak H, I am re-learning how to say yes. Yes, I’ll come with you to see a potential participant even if I’m not quite sure where we’re going or what type of person I’m going to meet. Yes, I will receive traditional treatments that I don’t understand and don’t necessarily believe, if you think I should try it. Yes, I will travel with you to your home regency next month and have my fortune told by a “white witch” (for lack of a better translation) and see an old spinster do a sacred dance to cleanse the village of evil spirits. Yes, please crowdsource potential recruits for me through your Facecbook page and spread my research proposal far and wide. Yes, please teach me high Javanese, and yes, I’ll read these Indonesian-language books if you think they’ll do me good. Re: Eep!—Yes, I will get on your motorcycle and go somewhere to see someone who is going to do something magical/mystical to me so I can have some firsthand experience of Islamic faith healing.

I trust Pak H, and I realize the need to defer to his better judgment since I have realized, in a couple short weeks and a few short conversations with various friends and colleagues, the complete and utter lack of nuance to my meager understanding of Javanese spiritual and religious culture (and generic culture, which tends to be viewed as separate from religion here, as far as I can surmise, and both are again separate from tradition and modernity…even though they all coalesce and I’d be hard-pressed to find someone Javanese who viewed these various aspects of their lives and identities as discreet from the next). I trust in my trust of him, too; I know that if I stick with him, I’ll learn much more than if I had stubbornly and stupidly tried to do this project without him.

Strangers. I have been learning to motorcycle, which has proven both extremely easy and extremely challenging, probably for obvious reasons. It is easier to do than riding a bike and takes only two or three days to get the hang of. However, the traffic here is as close to embodied anarchy as anything I have ever seen firsthand (except perhaps the town center Amritsar in Punjab, India, in front of the Golden Temple). The person who taught me to motor said I should faithfully rely on the drivers behind me, as they are looking forward and paying attention to the movements of the motors ahead of them. She stressed the fact that Indonesian drivers are very aware of their surroundings, good at judging distance and spatial relation (depth perception here is particularly important), and conscientious and patient on the roads. I need to pay attention to what’s going on in front of me, therefore, and trusting that others behind me are doing the same thing is a big step. I still check my blind spots and side/rearview mirrors obsessively, but I’m learning to relax and go with the flow of traffic. I stay to the side, puttering along slowly, also trusting that the other drivers’ recognition of my foreignness gives them a little forgiveness in their hearts for my grandmotherly style.

I also, of course, need to trust my own judgment that checking blind spots and mirrors is still a necessity even if those behind me are paying attention to what I’m doing. I also listen to my body and tell it to relax and trust itself: loosen the shoulders and neck, don’t grip so tightly—being aware and present doesn’t mean being tense and anxious. I feel safer on the road on a motorbike than on my feet and decidedly less frantic than when I am on a standard bicycle, and deciding to learn was undoubtedly a good choice. There isn’t much traffic around campus, and I am learning to go on the main roads little by little. It’s scary, but only because it’s unfamiliar. Luckily I’m scared shitless: I think this will help me stay safe on the road (as it has in the United States). Knock on wood, wear my talisman.

Self. I am growing to trust my ability and skills more and more as each week passes. I trust that I can do this project and achieve a good outcome that will be useful and interesting to others. I am also growing ever more confident in my language skills, even my high Javanese or at least my willingness to practice and keep trying. I trust that I am brave enough to try to do or learn something, even if it ends in failure, because trying and failing isn’t a failure.

I have to trust myself, in fact, or I won’t get anything done. Like I said above, although arguably I relied too heavily on support from American friends during Peace Corps—this may have been a barrier to crossing the threshold of real immersion into sustaining, real friendships and relationships with Indonesians—I miss having them here terribly, because I could trust the group so much (and therefore needed less trust in myself, which fed into my confidence issues perfectly). They were always able to keep me in check in terms of maintaining civility and respect in times of dire frustrating, anger, and anxiety. They always supported me if I made a final decision about my living situation or needed to take a break from site and drink an entire bottle of wine. They proved a sounding board for ideas and approaches to meeting goals and helping students. They encouraged me to push myself harder while doing what I needed to do to stay somewhat sane. We often moved from place to place in a group, meaning that more often than not I could rely on someone else to figure out logistics, answer strangers’ questions, call a taxi, hail a public transport van, re-orient us if we were lost, or choose a new restaurant to try. Now, I’m relying nearly 100% on myself, which is a new and empowering situation.

So, small victories mean a lot and boost my confidence and self-trust: yesterday I motored myself to the shopping center with directions from a friend in the office and assistance from my phone’s GPS system; if I had gotten lost, I would have been responsible for finding someone and asking for directions. I would have had to spend the metal energy trying to understand and trying to find my way back to the path. I can’t defer to the luxury of others’ initiative-taking—as I used to do on occasion since the group meant that individuals could rotate and take turns being the leader—since I’m just me. But the advantage to this is realize that I can do it all myself, when necessary. I knew in my heart that I could, but having the experience firsthand is affirming. Maybe SK was right: now that I received the award and am doing this, there’s no excuse for a lack of self-confidence.

Hopefully, I grow to trust even more in my intellectual abilities as I do this project and work towards creating something in the end that is satisfying to myself. I have a lot of trust for Indonesia, and it’d be nice to come out at the end with even more trust for and in myself.

Always a work in progress, huh?

–   follow me on Instagram @tisamlette   –

Under the spell!

I conducted a pilot interview this weekend!! It was with a dukun bayi or children’s healer (and massage/bathing specialist) in my village, and I think it went as well as could be expected for a trial run! I was lucky enough to have my host mother accompany me as language guru; the interviewee spoke about as much Indonesian as I do, and, of course, my Javanese is only so-so. But the interview was very successful, in my opinion, although I definitely have questions to re-work (and add). I measured the success by the total confusion and amazement I felt at the end; I’ve got a lot to learn, and it’s going to be fascinating. Without going into too much detail, the most interesting part of her story, for me, was that she had no formal training. None! She realized later in life and through a premonitory dream that she had the ability to heal children’s illness, and the whole venture into healing started with her own grandchild, whom she healed with intuitive massage after the doctors tried and failed to help him. A devout Muslim, she believes that her ability is a gift from Allah and that she should use it to help any and all children in need of care.

This story contrasts sharply with the interviews I conducted in the US, and since I’m thinking that this project will end up being a comparative analysis of the two types of healers’ experiences (i.e., Javanese and Anglo-American), the potential seems great already for some interesting and provocative results! Plus, on a personal level, I feel humbled and even more open to the learning process inherent in doing this type of cross-cultural “fieldwork.” I am a lucky lady.

Serendipitously, I have connected with an anthropologist here at UMM whose research interests overlap quite harmoniously with mine. He is Pak H, and I think I mentioned him in my previous entry. He’s someone I know from my Peace Corps days and was a Fulbrighter, too (University of Michigan, late 1980’s). We had lunch together yesterday; he seems quite excited about my project and very interested in helping me travel around to certain places to explore the world of traditional healing here. He’ll be sharing resources, too, and I plan to pick up a couple of books from him later today. We’ve already got two trips scheduled for October to a regency in East Java that’s famous for dukun, and apparently Pak H is already very well-connected to the healing community there since it’s also, !!!, where he’s from. He’s already mentioned my project to several of his connections, who have expressed interest in being interviewed. I could tell from just walking around campus with him that he is very well-connected and respected around here. Pak H says that ten months is more than enough time to accomplish the goals I’ve set out in my research proposal and that with his help, finding interesting and available participants will not be an obstacle. I suppose this makes him, at this point, my primary gatekeeper. How fortunate that he is also an expert in the field.

I can’t believe how things are falling into place! Again, I know there will be challenges, but so far… I’m not sure what I was worrying about all summer when I was making myself frantic with nerves and anxiety about whether I could do this. My friends and colleagues here are so aware of what kind of help I need, and they are more than gracious in extending their assistance wherever possible. I hope I can find a way to do my part for them; I am picking up on the concept of gotong royong (mutual cooperation), a very fundamental aspect of traditional Javanese culture that still thrives today, even in bigger, “modern” cities like Malang. I will have to take care to reciprocate all of the assistance I’ve been granted.

Overall, I’ve been very lucky so far in finding just the perfect people to help me adjust to being back in East Java. Several people, expats and locals alike, have been very gracious and open to assisting me, every bit as much as enthusiastically as Pak H. With the help of a lovely lady from Poland and Mas T, I’ve gotten hooked up with some good transportation and know-how. Thanks to my host family in the village, I feel secure and safe (host dad checked out my homestay and always provides advice on travel, social interaction, and financial issues). The Peace Corps safety and security officer in Surabaya has offered to help me hand-deliver some documents next week to the provincial authorities about my research, per instructions from the federal office to which I report. My new housemate has been so gracious in sharing her delicious foodstuffs, all of which she makes up off the top of her head like a true chef! And, of course, my new and old Indonesian friends have been so open to hanging out, making me feel right at home. My delightful new/old friend, Mas M, is being very diligent in helping/forcing me to practice my Javanese daily, and I love him for it! (He jokes that the reason I like him so much is because I ate an orange that he had had bewitched by a dukun with the express purpose of getting me to like him. But I just think he’s charming; anybody would like him. But then again I do feel I am under some kind of spell here…)

And, importantly, I finally connected with the American Corner here on campus, and reunited with Mas H, whom I last saw in DC a couple of months ago. Later in the semester, we’re going to collaborate on some projects for UMM students. Excitingly, I’ve been granted access to his wide library of English-language reading materials. (No more worrying about forcing Mom, Caitlin, and Lauren to send pleasure reading! Although by all means, please send anything you think I’d be interested in. Ha!) I checked out a Steinbeck novel yesterday, and it feels so good.

That’s all from me for now!


Please follow me on Instagram @tisamlette if you are interested in seeing photos! I will post some here from time to time, I’m sure, but so far I have been posting mainly to Instagram…

On returning to Malang

13 September 2014

Of course, shenanigans ensued immediately upon arrival in Malang. I was picked up at the airport by my friend, who helped Peace Corps as a language and culture facilitator and also presently works at the international relations office at my affiliate university. He texted me to let me know he was at the airport: I’m standing right behind you. And he was! Had a nice lunch and chatted before heading to campus to stop by the office; ran into the host sister of a fellow now-RPCV and hitched a ride to her village, near mine, to see her extended family and meet her new baby (whose new nickname is now Baggage since his name is one letter shy of that word in Indonesian). The baby liked me! Normally, Indo babies get fairly spooked by my pale face, but Baggage and I goofed around for quite some time before heading to my village. So far, everyone that I’ve met up with that I knew from before has been super gracious and excited to see me. This definitely feels like a homecoming, in a great way!

I didn’t even recognize my host parents’ place when we pulled up. The whole house has changed, and a new, blue, two-story house has been built right behind the old house (which is now being rented out). Bapak and Sinta were home, and again it barely felt like I had been gone at all. The major change in the family besides the new house is that Sinta is two years older, now 20, and that much more confident, ebullient, and, well, grown up. Ibu was at a selametan for the one-year anniversary of Bapak’s kakak’s passing, and she didn’t come home until quite late. She received a good long squeeze upon arrival.

So far, chatting with Bapak and Ibu about my upcoming project has been quite titillating. They are both so intelligent and well-spoken; Ibu in particular has a way of making things really clear for me (because, after all, my language skills aren’t as great as I’d like them to be). The best part of the conversation was when I asked Bapak, an architect and contractor, whether he had ever been to see a dukun (shaman) and he said no, but I’m a shaman myself. I said, oh? Really? He said yep— a dukun pembangunan, a building-shaman. He also informed me that he’s been to a female shaman— Ibu, ‘cuz she takes care of everything. Earlier today, Ibu and I were discussing shamanism around Indonesia, and she had an interesting story about magic on Kalimantan: Javanese men who go to work on Kalimantan often get hypnotized by women there, and when they come back to Java, their privates disappear (and thus cannot be used in the marital bed). When they go back to Kalimantan, poof! They reappear, and the man is lured into marriage on Kalimantan, leaving his Javanese wife behind. Who’d want to return to Java, wife or no, under that sort of spell?

I can start searching for participants as soon as my KITAS comes through, which should be next Thursday. My friend from the international relations office helped with that process, too, and also helped me start searching for a place to live. It was suggested to him that I live in a house owned by the university, and luckily there is a spare room. Even luckier, I can live there rent-free, at least for this semester. Apparently the university owns a couple of guest houses—one for males and one for females—that international/visiting lecturers can use during their time here. I don’t count as a visiting lecturer, so I don’t have priority, but enough of the lecturers here this semester have found alternative housing for themselves.

Admittedly, the facilities are lacking slightly: no A/C (though it’s cool enough that I think a fan will be enough), no real sink for washing dishes (though apparently most housing around here doesn’t have complete kitchens as food on the street is so cheap and plentiful), Western-style toilets instead of squatties (which would be ideal except that in Indonesia, Western-style toilets are often wet all over due to splashing from manual flushing), and three twin-beds in my room (since the house is really a 10-person house, though the 4 rooms and status as international housing means it functions as a 4-person house). However, can’t beat the price, and I think I’ll just tilt the extra beds up against the wall, get a blender and an electric kettle for coffee and smoothies in the morning, wash dishes in the tiny little hand-washing sink, and cope with the toilets. The positives: hot water for showering, a nice living room with a big coffee table for studying/working, an interesting and nice housemate, a couple young guys who come daily to sweep and tidy up, an Indomart convenience store and laundry toko just around the corner, and just a five minute walk to campus. I will be sharing with a nice Uzbekistani lady who’s teaching English this semester. She’s part of a little expat group of lecturers from all over the world: Libya, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Venezuela, France, etc. etc.! I haven’t met them all yet, but they warmly welcomed me yesterday into their little circle.

My plan at this time is to stay in the guest house Monday through Friday and go home with my host sister on (most) weekends to Bapak and Ibu’s house. She’s studying for her bachelor’s at the university and commutes daily, so I’ll be able to see her now and then during the week, perhaps for lunch or coffee!! (Went back to the much-beloved coffee joint in front of campus and had a delicious $0.75 iced espresso yesterday.) Not to my great surprise, Bapak and Ibu were very gracious and offered that I stay with them instead of paying for a place on my own in Malang, which is noisy and dirty, they say. I think a good compromise is splitting up the time. I love staying with them, and frankly I still have a lot to learn about Javanese language and culture; they have always been some of my best teachers. Lately, great conversations have been about: dukun, as mentioned; the recent Indonesian presidential election; cross-cultural co-habitation and its many challenges; family updates, including a couple of untimely deaths of middle-aged relatives on their end and updates about my family (that photo album was much enjoyed by all, Lauren!) and storytelling about my grandmother’s recent passing; village gossip, changes, and news; and what we’ve all been up to, in general, over the past two years, including Sinta’s somewhat negative experiences as a university student (she’s finding it hard to make friends since she is the only person in her cohort who commutes daily).

I think that’s all from me for now; the rest of the weekend, I’ll mampir to the other host families to catch up and say hello, head to the shopping center to get a few things for my new place, and hang with the family some more. I’m especially enjoying Sinta’s newfound enthusiasm for practicing her English, sitting in the kitchen in the morning with Ibu sipping coffee while she cooks and chats, and Bapak’s clear excitement that I’m visiting again. I also feel especially relaxed and enthused because of my smartphone and data plan; keeping in touch with important folks in the States is much easier this time around. Actually, since I knew what to expect this time around, everything so far as been much easier. I’m sure I’m still honeymooning, but I can’t imagine the coming weeks will be any less exciting since I get to start my research project. From my current vantage point, it seems that the most difficult thing about the Fulbright year so far is getting over my anxiety about the big shift back into this Indo life, and now that I’m here, I can finally relax about it all. I don’t doubt there will be big challenges in the future, but I know I’ve got a great support network (here and at home), a great internet connection, and a great deal more language, cultural, and self knowledge than I did four and a half years ago.

my milk and honey


(For the record, neither Lauren nor I are opposed to the sale of Tim Tams at Target.)

Wow, it’s September. I can’t believe it. I can already feel that this month is going to be spectacular… I’ve had a weird time settling in to site, as you can probably tell from my posts, and I’m starting to feel the love again. In three days, the “settling in” period will be officially over, though I’m sure I’ll be developing my friendships and relationships in this community throughout my stay here.

There are things I’ve needed to face for a while and I can confidently say that the majority of my time is spent ready and willing to face them (as opposed to the majority of my time being spent moping or being self-defeatist). I’m feeling dedicated, inspired, and motivated more often than not, which is good. I don’t doubt for a minute that it’s because I’m starting to feel in control of my life again—people are slowly getting used to me, my strange habits, and my eccentricities. I’ve also decided to stop worrying about being excessively cautious in my relations with my host parents—if I don’t let myself be myself, I won’t be happy. I suppose this is as much a measure of my newfound comfort as a deepening level of acceptance and perspective. It doesn’t hurt that I’m fairly sure most everyone at school (and my little les children) is starting to love me not just because I’m an exciting, strange, pretty foreigner, but because I’m Tante (aunt), Miss, sayang (darling), or just Samanta. It was interesting in the beginning to experience the self-esteem boost of being immediately popular for not really doing anything but showing up but it’s infinitely more gratifying to be appreciated for… being me? Ugh, that’s cheesy, but it’s starting to be true.

I’d like to stop waxin’ and give you a little information about my school. I realized today that I haven’t said much about what it means that I’m teaching at an Islamic school and this is a fascinating experience. Of course, it’s the surface aspects of working at an Islamic school that strike one first—all of the women and girls (except me) wear jilbabs, full-length skirts or pants, and long-sleeved skirts. The boys aren’t allowed to wear shorts and often wear traditional Javanese Islamic caps called peci. There’s a mosque on the school compound, though we’ve outgrown it and praying students spill into the courtyard whenever it’s time for prayers, for which classes are stopped for about a half an hour, sometimes three times a day. We’ve also got signs around the school and above the classrooms that are printed in three languages (English, bahasa Indonesia, and Arabic), another surface-level quality, and each classroom has numerous copies of the Holy al-Qur’an (and not much else in the way of books or literature). Stuff that’s not on the surface: students study, speak, write, read, and pray in Arabic though only the Arabic teachers are fluent. The students take numerous religion classes on various aspects of Islam. History classes and the social sciences incorporate studies of Islam and the Arab/Islamic world. Prayer times involve wuduh or the ritualistic cleansing of specific parts of the body (hands, feet, forehead, mouth, ears, face, crown of the head…right, Diana?) with water fountains found scattered across the school compound, the donning of special prayer garments for ladies: silken, billowy skirts and head-coverings whose hems come to the knees and that hide everything except the face, and the call to prayer over the loudspeaker system. Really, though, the major differences (in comparison to my experiences at public schools in Indiana and Arizona) don’t come from the fact that the school is Islamic but that it’s religious, and Indonesian; if I may generalize, the kids are much more polite, respectful, and engaged than their US counterparts, tremendous considering the circumstances and difficulties of being a student in this country (and the greater opportunities—technological, economic—experienced by mainstream US students).


Animals that directly attack and onion until his mother died. That is the reward for people who are greedy.”

september trust


My host dad came home today from Jakarta. He had been there with my host mom and their ill daughter since August 5th, the day their daughter had a surprise Caesarean a month before full term. She somehow got a viral or bacterial lung infection shortly thereafter and was transferred to a different hospital while the new baby—her second—stayed in the ICU at the original hospital. A few days ago, their daughter was released. My host mom is still there and wont be coming back until after I leave for Bali, though her youngest daughter—who lives on Kalimantan (Borneo)—will be coming here on September 6th to celebrate the end of Ramadhan, Eid ul-Fitr (known as Idul Fitri in Indonesia). This is good news for me since Ibu Mama told me I’d most likely not meet either of her daughters since they usually don’t come home for the holidays.

Yesterday I took myself a-walk and afterwards hung out with a family that owns a toko near my school. The grandpa was there along with his son and daughter-in-law, the proprietors. They’ve got a cute ten-month-old baby boy who’s almost as big as some of the five-year-olds who live on my street. He’s smart. He makes mooing noises when you ask him what a sapi (cow) sounds like and pretends to slap mosquitoes between his hands when you ask him where the nyamuks (mosquitoes) are.

It was so nice to get out and do some walking yesterday. While I appreciate Ramadhan and am gaining some valuable insight about the holiday, about Islam, and about Indonesian Islamic culture, I’ll be glad to stop fasting so I can get out and about more. I’ve been dehydrated (as evidenced by my horribly chapped lips) and walking around sweating off water is a dangerous business, even if it’s in the name of integration into the community. I’m looking forward to doing some formal interviewing for needs analysis, which I’ll start as soon as I’m back from Bali, and continuing to make new friends and becoming a part of the community here, both of which are easier when following a normal sleeping and eating routine. The upside of the fasting is that I’ve gotten closer to my neighbors since I haven’t been walking much farther than what’s effectively the end of my street—depth over breadth these days, which is okay by me, but my village is on the bigger side if not just more crowded than I’d imagined it would be so I’ve still got lots of people to meet. Did you know Java is the most densely populated island in the world?


What a day! Went with Bu Heri to Magetan to get a ticket to Surabaya for the day my train leaves from the station there to Bali. Turned out to be almost 100% more expensive than usual because it’s the holiday. Oh, well!

After buying the ticket, Bu Heri and I went to a vocational high school in Magetan at which Bu Heri had taught for ten years prior to moving to our current school. I met some of her former coworkers and a couple of the students, the former being very proficient in English and desperate to get me to teach at their school or help them in some way and the latter being excited and shocked and thrilled by my presence. There are only five teachers at that school, so I invited them to ask permission from my principal (who will heretofore not be known as Mr. Miyagi, though if you imagine him as such it’s fine by me) to join the teachers’ English class. I also invited them to come and observe me and Bu Heri teach. I feel so badly that I’m not allowed to guest teach at their school if not because I think it would help them but because they’re so disappointed that I can’t. Oh, well!

Rode my bike to the warnet and goofed around for an hour or so, mostly looking at Tomatsu Shomei photographs and chatting with Lauren about making things out of plastic. A nice break during the middle of the day and a good way to pass the time since Ayah wasn’t home when I came back from Magetan.

Came home and crashed for half an hour before my herd of “les” students showed up on the front porch half an hour early for class (I don’t know what “les” means but it’s the word the kids use when referring to the after school English club I’ve been having at my house. By the way, les is the only time I’ve ever seen an Indonesian early for something, so I must be doing something right). It was insane today! We played Bingo again, by popular demand, and we’ll play it for our final meeting on Friday and hopefully I’ll get them down to once a month Bingo or something… after the holiday. The kids are spreading the word—I had over fifty students today. Last Friday I had 42, which was just barely manageable. Adding roughly ten to that number makes things a quite a hootenanny (especially when they all feel like they need to saleem me on their way out…I get scared my hand’s gonna get ripped off in the excitement). I split them up randomly for Friday’s class and after the holiday we’ll divide by age. Their homework is to start collecting used plastic bags that their parents don’t need and would normally burn; Lauren and I chatted today about recycling projects involving plastic bags and the two ideas I like the most for the kids are doormats and jumpropes. I’d like to get a group of folks to knit or crochet tote bags, too, but I might save that for a ladies group later on.

After les, my two favorite (shh) girls from the neighborhood and I made pizza. They were so excited to help me cook and were delighted to hear my half-truth about how yeast is like a tiny animal that likes to eat sugar and then farts to make the dough rise. I have only a limited vocabulary, so sue me if my rendition of “releases gas” is “farts.” Anyways, they were flabbergasted by the kneading process, absolutely loved preparing the tiny bowls of toppings (bok choy, fried tempeh, grated white cheddar cheese, marinara with garlic, shallot, and chili pepper), and very impatient during the long wait while the pizza was baking. I’ve never seen an in-home oven in this country and my current homestay is no exception, so in the style of my Ibu in Malang I set up a makeshift steam-oven with a wok, a small amount of water, a platform for the tart tin I used as a pizza pan, and a big silver bowl on top to trap the steam. Quite a success, though I was skeptical at first since it took nearly a half an hour for the dough to bake. I’m not sure if it was actually delicious or it’s just been a while, but that pizza blew my mind. So cheesy! So salty! So not made of rice!*

Then I hung out and buka’ed with Ayan (sort of) and watched Borat since I had a headache and needed to laugh it off. I then proceeded to get real excited about: Bali, my friends in Bloomington and thinking about how fantastic my family is, amazing big people growing amazing tiny people in their amazing bellies, the Flaming Lips, Diana’s massive brain, and realizing that everyone in this country is going to think I’m weird and strange no matter what I do so I might as well be my weird and strange self and get over it. And I may have wasted a couple minutes getting sublimely teary over Brian Eno and John Cale (and winter basements, belly dancers, and holding hands in coffee shops in the City).

*The pizza was a bigger success than last week’s no-bake cookies made with cereal puffs for lack of oatmeal. Ha.


Happy Birthday, Dad!!