Satu bulan nanti… maaf!

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So it’s been more than a month since I last attempted to write a blog post, and I’m a little disappointed in myself: my original goal had been to update every week, and I had been doing so well until this point. Actually, however, the fact that I haven’t been driven to write lately may be a good sign; things that happen are somehow less note-worthy in my own mind as they’re slowly but surely becoming standard in my life. Things are… normal. I’m still an outsider, still consistently met with stares and uncontrollable, uncomfortable or giddy laughter, requests for selfies and the ever-present shouting of “Mau ke mana, Miss?” I am still not fully used to the food, and crave a Fuddrucker’s burger, a Chipotle burrito, and a Taco Bell gordita more than I ever thought possible, but… I’m adjusting. Things are pretty good overall.

In my head, I know that a lot has happened since my last post, but I’ve been struggling to remember everything in a way that will make it possible for me to write about these things in any detail. I’m scared of losing memories, so what follows is going to be an attempt to reign them all in, more for myself than anyone else; I really want to document this trip as best I can, and lately I’ve been failing at that.

I guess the biggest change happened fairly soon after my last blog post: my neighbors, the owners of my house as well as of several bakeries and a restaurant around Kendal, arrived back home from Mecca: Bu Laela, a former English teacher at MAN Kendal (she retired this year due to health problems) and her husband, who speaks just a tiny bit of English but is just as kind as she is. Their huge, beautiful house is right next to mine (which was intended as a guest house, as far as I can understand), and has both an inside and an outside waterfall, complete with a giant catfish in the pond below. The picture on the right of this blog is actually of the their home. Since their three children are all away at school – two of them are studying abroad (in Turkey and Germany) and their younger daughter is enrolled at a university in Semarang – Bu Laela has stated that I’m like her new daughter. I have officially been invited over for breakfast every morning, and, since they own bakeries, this includes a great selection of pastries and muffins. It’s almost too good to be true, especially considering that I already receive dinner gratis from Bu Supartinah and doorstep lunch delivery from the school. I’ve even been able to make peanut butter and jelly, which comforted me more than I expected it to when I was feeling a little low. The couple has taken me to dinner, on a tandem bicycle ride (my counterpart and I on one bicycle with them on another), driven me to visit family in the mountains, taken me to a wedding (two more are planned for this weekend), and plan on showing me a nearby beach soon as well. I am extremely grateful to have them.

I will forever cherish the memory of kneeling on the ground, scooping a mixture of mud and sawdust into my hands, and plopping it into the plastic mold used to form bricks; my hands were coated in the gloopy stuff, and I was encouraged from the sidelines (and recorded) as I attempted to smooth over the surface with my palm and lift the mold to form a perfect rectangular prism. Behind me was a waist-high collection of hundreds upon hundreds of recently-formed bricks drying in the sunlight, and on the ground were just as many that were too wet to stack. What took me a good few minutes took the tiny matriarch of the family who lived there a mere few seconds – and she did it better than I did. All of us then retreated to the small house on the property to drink es kelapa muda (coconut milk) fresh from the trees outside. Surreal? Most definitely.

We had come to a property in the rural outskirts of Kendal that was also owned by Bu Laela and her husband on our long tandem bicycle ride. The family who lived there lived off of the plentiful resources the land had to offer, as well as sold the bricks that I had attempted to make. It was certainly one of the most memorable days I have experienced in Indonesia.

There had been a slight little incident the day before that, as – upon returning from Mecca and checking on the house I currently live in – the cleaning standard I had ascribed to thus far was not quite high enough. This was told to me quite gently, in the setting of a meeting they arranged with me one evening, but it still made me feel pretty awful. They were understanding of the fact that the house was probably too big for me, got dirty easily, and acknowledged that they knew I tried… there was kind-hearted laughter, even, and the constant reassurances that they weren’t angry, just trying to help me. The reality, however, was that my house was expensive, recently built, and a point of pride for them; proper maintenance is incredibly important. And they were right. Of course they were. Having not yet properly met these people, though, I was crushed that their possible first impression of me was of a lazy American who didn’t like to clean (despite having no evidence that this was their viewpoint, it was hard not to feel that way). The comment that I was a princess and therefore my skin was too white and beautiful for hard work didn’t help me to feel better, though later I realized that the remark was actually serious rather than sarcastic.

It was decided that a cleaning crew would come every morning to keep the house in order, and that’s actually been a weight off my shoulders. Because I really had been trying, but somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that I probably wasn’t doing well enough. The mop I had bought just a few weeks before had literally broken apart in my hands the day prior to the sit-down meeting, as I had tried to scrub away the dirt on the kitchen floor, and I had an angry red blister on my finger from gripping the handle too hard (this, I believe, is what sparked the comment about my white and beautiful skin). It really was too much for me to handle, and it took me a while to realize that this fact was nothing to be ashamed of. “You’re there to teach,” my dad reminded me, “not to be a maid. They know what kind of a person you are.” The other ETAs were similarly supportive after I vented to the Facebook group, but I still felt twinges that I should have tried harder, done more to dispel stereotypes against Americans. That’s partly why I’m here, after all. But the great bicycle trip with Bu Laela the following morning really proved to me that neither she nor her husband thought anything of the sort; they were happy to have me there, and treated me with forgiveness and generosity. There were even a few well-meaning cleaning jokes made at my expense (“Maybe if you pedal faster, you will also clean faster!”) Well, I had it coming.

I guess the next big bit of news is that I went to Singapore. The best part of the whole experience was, of course, finally being able to talk in person with the nine other ETAs stationed at madrasahs; it was cathartic to discuss things that had been on my mind and things I had experienced, and also fascinating to hear their perspectives. The incredibly sweet Anna gave us all personalized letters and a box of delicious little pastries that she made herself… forgive me for forgetting what they’re called right now, Anna, but thank you again!

The next best part of the trip? The food. Or just having the option to eat the food I’ve been deprived of, really; I think I miss general availability and freedom of choice more than the actual tastes, as it’s torturous to crave a burrito and have no possible way of getting one. Singapore is a fascinating mixture of cultures – Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, and Malaysian being most prevalent among them – and the plurality of languages on all of the signs was something I never got tired of seeing. English is an official language in Singapore, and it was quite a nice change to be able to confidently order food at restaurants and talk with shop owners. Also, aside from being absolutely stunning, Singapore has got to be the cleanest place I have ever seen. There are harsh fines – and even punitive punishments – to enforce such order and cleanliness, but these measures definitely work.

It was also so, so, so nice not to be stared at. Singapore is comprised of foreigners… that’s sort of its main appeal, what makes it unique. We didn’t stand out amongst the crowds, and that’s the exact kind of invisibility I sometimes wish for in Indonesia. It makes seeing the sites and exploring a lot less intimidating.

I enjoyed a quesadilla at an outdoor promenade at night, drank some cold beer, strolled around Chinatown, ate a Chinese lunch (reminding me how much I’ve missed the food there), bought a ton of oleh-oleh (souvenirs) for my fellow teachers at MAN Kendal, ate a brownie sundae at a restaurant on Arab street, and just lounged around and talked with the other ETAs. All in all, it was a great reprieve. What was funny and surprising to me was just how scandalous I felt the whole time. I felt like I was looking at my surroundings through the lens of a conservative Muslim woman: everyone was exposing so much skin! I wore shorts! And a tank top! And felt oddly self-conscious the whole time. It’s incredible how quickly your environment can mold your thought process, and it sheds a little bit of light on cultural adaptation and the need for patience when it comes to reaching a mutual understanding. Two months was all it took for my perspective to shift.

The purpose of the Singapore trip was for those of us placed in madrasahs to obtain a Socio-Cultural VISA, which we would later be able to convert into the more permanent KITAS to last the remainder of our stay. As of right now, my VISA situation is all but completely sorted: all that’s left is one final extension request, as the KITAS expires on May 10 rather than the 30. It’s only taken 3… or 4… 5? long, traffic-jam laden hot car rides to Semarang’s immigration office, but I’m finally a legal bule.

I previously mentioned that I bought oleh-oleh – more than 50 assorted keychains/other small gifts, as well as colorful handbags for the four main ibus in my life. It was gratifying to see the excited smiles of the teachers as they chose their preferred souvenir from the bag, chatting to one another as they decided what they wanted and occasionally nabbing an extra for one of their children. It’s Indonesian tradition to bring gifts home for friends and family after an extended trip, and I wanted to show that I was aware of this aspect of their culture as well as thinking of them while I was away. It seemed to be appreciated! The fancy lighter I bought for my counterpart Pak Sigit was stolen out of my suitcase (which I checked for the sole purpose of not having the item confiscated as a carry-on), but he was understanding. At least he knows I tried. “Use a lock next time,” said the wife of Eliza’s counterpart. “Things are often stolen in Indonesian airports.” Lesson learned.

There’s simply too much else that’s happened to detail, I guess, so I’m going to attempt a quick bulleted list of some of the highlights of the following weeks:

1) I went to Jakarta for Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s Residence, and met 90 or so other American teachers, most of whom were with the Peace Corps. Hearing their experiences was amazing, and just being surrounded by so many other Americans – as well as other ETAs I hadn’t seen since orientation – was incredibly comforting. And the food? Delicious. Pumpkin and pecan pie were definite highlights, as was the wine. Also? I got to go to Chili’s. There’s actually one in Jakarta. And I finally got my burger. (Side note: I’ve now eaten at Chili’s in Ecuador and Indonesia, both of which are places I never expected to find one, and both times it was a perfect taste of home.)

2) I booked my vacation for the end of December! I’ll be in Bali from the 22-25, which means Christmas at the beach (!), and then I’m headed to Flores to visit the dragons on Komodo Island for the next two days. I’ll be with fellow ETA Grace for the duration, as well as hopefully acquire a few tagalongs!

3) I discovered that there’s a pretty cool swimming pool just a short walk from my house, and was able to go last weekend with a new friend and her young son. I wore yoga pants rolled to the knee and secured with a safety pin as well as a baggy t-shirt – American bathing suits wouldn’t exactly be appropriate. The atmosphere, however, was the same as it would be at a community pool back home, and I really enjoyed myself.

4) Teaching continues to be a highlight of my time here, but I still have less influence than I am used to in the classroom; as an assistant, I do a lot of listening to the main teacher, try my best to refine the material included in the curriculum, and lecture the best I can in English that the students can understand. I think it’s good that my experience has largely been with first-graders, because I’m in no way embarrassed to act things out or make a fool of myself to demonstrate a point, and the students seem to enjoy it. The other day, I accidentally ran into the door frame in an attempt to act out the idea of “storming into” a room. The laughter was initially embarrassing, but then it made me smile… if I can make them smile and enjoy English class, then that’s a victory.

I love my English Conversation Club, because I can control what I do during class, and the students have a chance to practice in a low-stress setting. Many of them are still too shy to volunteer on their own, but they’re slowly coming around. I did a brief lesson on Thanksgiving and shared some of the foods we traditionally eat (they’re baffled by the cranberry sauce!), have sung songs and analyzed lyrics, had a student come to the board and draw a picture that she couldn’t see while her friends used English to describe it to her, had them fill-in-the-blanks in a paragraph about my life with a grammatically appropriate word, compose sentences with individual word cards, participate in a two-teamed English competition using a Powerpoint presentation filled with questions, and other fun activities. I’m still trying to find my footing and get the kids out of their shell, but it’s been great so far.

I’m looking forward to implementing the regional grant idea next semester: AMINEF divides the ETAs into small groups based on region, and challenges us to come up with a project idea to implement in our schools that a) requires the students to actively use and practice English, b) produces some sort of tangible product, and c) has the potential for sustainability; i.e., it’s likely to be repeated in future years by other ETAs, or by the will of the students themselves. I can’t take any credit at all for the idea we seem to have settled on (the date sort of snuck up on me, and I was initially unclear about the division of the groups), but my teammates have proposed creating a video that includes student photographs of parts of Indonesia that are important to them, as well as their thoughts on their home: what do they want people to know about their country? It will be interesting for the students to see how their perspectives may differ from one school to the next; even though we are all in Java, Indonesia is rich with diversity. I hope that implementing this project will instill some pride within the students, actively engage them with English, and encourage open discussions about cultural differences.

I’m sure there is so much I’m forgetting to write about now, and I apologize for that. I will do my best from this point on to update more often. Sampai jumpa, teman-teman!

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Barongsai dan Jaran Kepang! (Dan listrik padam lagi…)

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So this past week marked a full month of being in Kendal! It’s strange to me: sometimes it feels like I’ve been here for a long time, and other days I feel like I just arrived here yesterday. I guess a month is somewhere in the middle of those two sentiments, so that’s about right. 🙂

The weeks are passing more and more quickly as things start to feel more “normal”, and I find myself slowly settling in to a routine here: I’m usually woken up by some combination of a rooster crowing and the 4:30 call to prayer. My alarm has only gone off once or twice – I actually think the first time was a few days ago, as I’ve been sleeping more and more soundly now that I’ve learned to sleep through all of the outside noise. It scared me pretty badly, as I had no idea what the alarm tone would be: turns out it’s a British woman saying “It is time to wake up.” Talk about unexpected, haha.

I then get dressed and walk the short distance to school, saying about a million hellos to all of the students also on their way to  campus, trying not to get my long skirt or pants dusty, and generally walking past intentional rubbish fires, peacocks, cats, and chickens. In my most restrictive black skirt, I take small, awkward steps, the fabric chafing my ankles as I strain to walk in longer strides. I think I’m starting to perfect this walk, though… 😛

After I arrive at school, I immediately head to the ruang guru, or teachers room, and greet all of the ibus by shaking their hands and touching cheeks while they talk about how cantik (beautiful) I look that day (“Like Barbie!” is something I’ve heard often here, which makes me laugh because no one’s ever told me that before coming to Indonesia, and I doubt they ever will again!) There’s always hot tea, water, and even some sort of snack (and occasionally a complete breakfast of rice and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf) that’s handed out to every teacher.

I listen happy to all of the gossip and laughing around me, and then head to class with whichever teacher is first on my schedule; I generally attend between two and three one-and-a-half hour classes a day, walking back home during lunch to quickly eat the food that’s delivered to my house before returning back to school. I am finished at 2:20, which is really nice, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have English club from 3:00-4:00 at the opposite campus (though these meetings are a definite highlight in my week!). At 5:00, I am always invited over to Bu Supartinah’s for dinner, which is, never-fail, enak sekali (very delicious). I spend my evenings trying to do laundry by hand, cleaning, studying Indonesian, thinking of lesson ideas/planning for English club, accepting friend requests from my students on my second Facebook account (I think there are 870 who have added me now), and catching up on my shows (if the internet is cooperating)! It’s a simple, increasingly satisfying lifestyle. 🙂

I go to bed between 8:30 and 9:00 embarrassingly often, haha; I know the days aren’t particularly strenuous, but I always feel so tired by the end of them. It could be the constant heat, the daily effort of trying to positively represent my country, my organization, and myself, the struggle of using/listening to a foreign language every day… I don’t know! None of these are really bad things, simply different than what I’m used to; I know that I’m still adjusting. Or maybe I just pass out so early because I’ve successfully survived another day in Indonesia and my body demands that I reward it with sleep, ha. Who knows.

I actually had some of the most memorable experiences of my trip so far this week, but to save time and space I think I’ll just make an expanded list of all of the highlights!

1) The school week went really well, and I got to teach more in front of the class than I have previously. I really love the students, and am more sure than ever that teaching is the profession for me. 🙂 It is a challenge, however, to explain the complex grammar that is part of the new curriculum, as I would much rather focus on cementing the basics, but it is a necessary evil.

2) I went shopping by myself on Saturday, which was a success except for the small task of finding internet SIM cards. I thought I’d be able to remember where Pak Sigit showed me before, a short walk from the general store, but discovered that I couldn’t (not a surprise, as I’m pretty bad with directions!) I ended up wandering a bit in the general area that I thought the shop would be, and probably looked extremely out of place because about 10 people asked me if I needed help with something. I was just like “Uh, tidak, terimah kasih!” (No thanks!) I would have asked, but that probably would have meant a stranger accompanying me, and I wanted to avoid that. Pak Sigit took me a different day instead. But hey, at least I tried!

3) On Saturday morning, there was a huge meeting for parents at MAN Kendal – Pak Syaefudin, the headmaster, was leading a presentation regarding the curriculum, class selection, grading policy, semester fees, staff, and even his own background, as he is new to this school. He requested that I come – all of the parents, by this point, had heard of me but not yet met me; they could now hear me introduce myself as well as receive more information about AMINEF. Fulbright also sends students and teachers to America each year, and selected students and teachers from MAN Kendal are applying.

There was a long, fancy table and chairs set up on the stage of the auditorium, and I was directed to sit there along with a couple of other staff members and Pak Syaefudin himself – I felt so nervous! I was looking out over the entire audience, and could therefore easily observe their reactions to me (luckily, everyone was smiling and snapping photos on their phone… I don’t know what I would have done had mean glares been the only thing shot in my direction, haha). After about twenty minutes of other speakers (and an incredibly impressive prayer session in Arabic led by a female student who had the most incredible voice I have ever heard… praying often becomes singing), it was time for me to approach the podium.

It was immediately clear that the microphone had been set about two feet too low for me to use. I tried unsuccessfully to fix it for a few seconds (while the audience laughed) before someone came to help me. I guess it was fortunate in that it broke the ice a little bit, so that’s good. 🙂 When I finally spoke, I didn’t exactly know what to say; Pak Syaefudin was beside the stage with a microphone of his own in order to translate, and quietly provided me with helpful ideas as soon as I finished a previous thought (What about your school? China?)

Everything went well, though, and it was nice to meet all of the parents!

4) Saturday night was super-fun, as the power went out at about 7:00. Power outages kind of suck, since my computer battery doesn’t hold a charge; it dies immediately when the power shuts out. 😦 Anyway, I hadn’t showered yet, so I decided to bring my cellphone into the bathroom (since it has a flashlight feature). Soon after beginning my cold shower, flashes of light kept illuminating  the room: lightning had started. Then, the heavy rains began. It was pretty awesome – and surreal – to be showering in essential pitch-darkness, listening to the rain outside and watching the lightning. Incidentally, it was also the first time I’ve seen rain in Indonesia, aside from the quick flash shower on the way to Bandung.

And that’s when the water started to go out, which also happens sometimes, especially when many people are using it at once. I was barely able to wash all of the shampoo out of my hair. I was actually loving the entire experience, though – what a memory. I went to bed early, just relaxing and listening to the rain (I can’t say it wasn’t oppressively hot, though!); the power came back at about 10 pm, as I knew it would eventually.

So it’s obvious that I have failed completely in trying to write succinct bullet points. So, even though this next entry is technically number 5, I know it’s going to be much longer than it needs to be, haha. Anyway…

5) On Sunday, I had been invited to Bu Wahyuni’s house a short drive away to watch some traditional dancing in honor of a local boy’s circumcision (she happened to live right next door to the family, so was located in the midst of the festivities). When boys are about 10 or 11, their circumcision marks becoming a man; the closest comparison I can think of is a bar mitzvah. This particular family hosted a huge outdoor celebration, complete with vendors selling food and toys, hundreds of people, and hired performers of the traditional Barongsai and Jaran Kepang spiritual dances. They are largely similar in that both are performed in order to call forth spirits in order to possess the bodies of the dancers and enable them to perform extraordinary feats, such as eating glass, opening a coconut with just their teeth or sustaining whip lashes, but Jaran Kepang involves the participants riding decorative model horses in a particular formation in order to do so. Both dances were performed throughout the entire day by a variety of performers, although we only stayed for a couple of hours.

Pak Sigit drove me to Bu Wahyuni’s house at about 10:00 am. Before venturing out to the street to watch the show, she very kindly showed us her home, provided food and beverages, and introduced us to her sister, her daughter, her son-in-law, and her two small grandchildren. Everyone was so incredibly kind and generous. We came back to the house after watching the dancing for a while, only to be treated to fresh kelapa muda (coconut milk) from coconuts collected from the trees outside; it was cold and full of delicious pulp. It’s definitely one of my favorite things in Indonesia so far!
I hesitate to try and describe the dancing itself, as it was so surreal and unique that it feels impossible to me. The music was catchy and hypnotic, performed live by a number of musicians, and the dancers were invariably young men – some were in elaborate costumes and makeup, others in simple t-shirts; they began in a sort of formation, gesticulating and moving to the rhythm, but at some point began acting strange – their eyes would widen, they’d begin to stumble, they’d run in to their fellow performers, or they’d wander close to the audience… this is the point where they were said to be possessed by the spirits, and, as such, immune to bodily harm: they eat broken glass to prove this, which apparently does not cause bleeding (I saw the plate of broken glass get carried away, but was too far away to see anyone eat it). There was a guy with a colorful whip keeping the dancers in line/demonstrating their inability to feel pain, though I never saw any direct contact with the whip and with skin.
What surprised me most was seeing one of the participants faint and have to be carried away – Pak Sigit explained that it was a reaction to the spirits being expelled by the ‘experts’, who crowded around the dancer as he seemed to weave in and out of consciousness. I soon learned that this happened very, very often, but it never stopped shocking me.
There were children everywhere, and they loved the entire event – especially the part of Barongsai that involves two people underneath tall effigies of a male and a female dancing wildly to the music; the children would chase them and dance excitedly alongside them. It is said that love within a couple prevents spirit possession, which is what these elaborate costumes represent (though these participants would also fall over, an apparent result of the spirits entering their body). There are also parts of Barongsai that involve multiple dancers inside a large dragon puppet. Pak Sigit explained that, although this is based on Chinese tradition (there are many Chinese people in Indonesia), Indonesian people have altered the form of dance to suit the culture of their own country.
The entire experience was so, so memorable. I am in no position to judge or comment on what I saw – I know very little about these traditions. Were spirits really possessing these dancers? I don’t know anything for sure, but the performances were certainly compelling.
6) After this unforgettable morning, Pak Sigit took me to buy the internet SIM cards that I had previously failed at finding, as well as a small emergency light and candles for the next power outage (a bit strange, since the lights went out again that very evening at Bu Supartinah’s for dinner… they came back before I returned home, though).
7) I am finally going to Singapore sometime next week to secure my VISA! I’m excited to see some of my fellow teachers and to experience, however briefly, another new culture. 🙂
I guess that’s it for now! I should really mandi (wash) and tidur (go to bed!)
Selamat malam!

Rumah sakit dan pernikahan…

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Hello everyone! I hope everyone is doing well back at home! Another week gone, wow. And once again, Indonesia hasn’t failed to make my life exciting. This week’s title translates to “hospital and wedding”, which doesn’t really require any additional explanation… Although it is interesting to me how direct the Indonesian language is: “hospital” is literally “sick house”. Fair enough. 🙂

The majority of the week was drama-free, fairly normal and straightforward (I guess it says something that Indonesia is finally becoming routine!) The students were testing, which changed the school’s schedule and meant that I wouldn’t be able to actually teach or lead English Conversation Club. But I kept busy, waking up earlier than my normal schedule requires to get to school for the first session each day and stay for the entire time. If everyone else had to do it, I wanted to as well. I was told that it would be okay for me to “take a rest”, but I wasn’t sure what else to do for an entire week by myself in my huge house; besides, I love going to school! Even for testing.

I followed co-teachers of mine to their assigned classrooms for each period (the students stay in one place while the teachers move, and this time, teachers were assigned random classes to administer exams) and assisted in distributing the papers, monitoring the students, and compiling the completed tests at the end of the period. This is a nice way of saying that I sat next to my coteacher and watched the students for an hour and a half at a time, haha. I did get to beat every level of Color Bridge on the Nokia brick phone that AMINEF gave to each of us at orientation, which is an accomplishment I am pretty proud of! My smartphone from China died pretty quickly after getting here, but I actually love this old standby. 🙂 I also knocked out a few Sudoku puzzles, so score.

Honestly, though, I wasn’t bored. It was nice to be a part of everything, and I did manage to have some interesting conversations with many of the teachers. Pak Sigit and I exchanged language lessons (I taught him how to count in Chinese and Spanish, and he showed me the Arabic alphabet), and talked about American movies and culture. Back in the teachers room between classes, I sat and drank hot tea and enjoyed the free snack boxes the school handed out to everyone while chatting with all of the Ibus and Bapaks of MAN Kendal. Being an ETA is about cultural interaction, not just teaching; I appreciated the chance to get to know everyone better. and I’m feeling more and more like part of the community.

Anyway, on Thursday evening, Pak Sigit very kindly decided to show me how to get to Rocket Chicken (an Indonesian fast-food chicken restaurant), so I could eat there on nights that I was unable to eat with Bu Supartinah. That day, she had left for a weekend trip out of town, which meant that I had to fend for myself for makan sore (dinner) the next few nights. I was all for trying Rocket Chicken – Kendal doesn’t have a McDonald’s or a KFC, and I was really craving a burger (or any kind of sandwich, really!) and some french fries. Everything went well: he arrived at my house in early evening (before sundown, of course) and we caught the tiny – and extremely crowded – bus to the post office; the restaurant was only a short walk from there.

{The bus, by the way, has only one door, which is always open; a man is always hanging around in the doorway, accepting fares and yelling destinations to the driver. Seats are taken quickly, and the rest of the space is generally filled by people standing and trying not to fall over… it’s difficult to get out when you reach your stop, because so many people are packed like sardines in front of you. The bus might have started to inch away again after arriving at my destination, which may have caused me to yell “Stop!” in a panic while trying to squeeze through masses of people, but that’s all part of the experience I guess. Oh, and it also costs a whole Rp. 2.000 (2,000 Rupiah, or 20 cents. Soooo expensive, right?).}

So we got to Rocket Chicken, which was both familiar and… not. Which is something I think I said of Indonesia itself in an earlier blog post. At first glance, it looked like a regular fast-food place, but after I ordered, I realized that 1) It wasn’t actually fast food and 2) This meal was going to be quite a… loose… interpretation of chicken burgers, chicken tenders, and french fries (my chosen order). Pak Sigit is no fan of this sort of fare, but the drinks are pretty gourmet; I ordered fresh strawberry juice while he ordered durian juice (nope nope nope), and we enjoyed our beverages while waiting for my food to be ready so I could take it home with me (did I mention that, despite appearances, this was not fast food? Haha).

After about 25 minutes or so, we took the tiny bus back to MAN Kendal. I was happily gripping my greasy paper bag, excited to eat something that might taste like home. And it sort of did. The chicken tenders were the best part of the meal – they weren’t crispy, as the breading was sort of soggy, but the meat tasted good to me. I dipped them pretty generously in saus sambal, which can only be equated to red hot sauce in America, but definitely has its own flavor. The chicken burger was… okay. It would have been better had raw onions not been hidden under the lettuce and the compressed patty been a little more free of hard chunks (think early McD’s nuggets). Nonetheless, I still loved it and scarfed it down. The fries were pretty good, but sort of soft and they didn’t have any salt. I took what I could get, though, and ate absolutely everything.

Yeah. It turns out that may have been a problem. Of course, I could just have been unlucky and come to the restaurant on a bad day, or maybe what happened next wasn’t related to food at all and was just a stomach bug. All I know is that, sometime past midnight on Thursday, I woke up with a violent urge to throw up. I ran to the bathroom and did just that, and then again about a half an hour later and again first thing the next morning. I was happy it wasn’t more than that; I laid on my back all night to try and keep the nausea at bay, which helped, but also meant that I got barely any sleep.

Fridays are only half-days, due to afternoon prayer – I felt bad at the prospect of missing school, but testing was going on anyway, and the day was short, so it was the best time being sick could have happened. I texted Pak Sigit, really just apologizing and saying that I had been ill the night before and still felt unwell, and was planning on just resting until I felt better. I fell back asleep somehow, and then woke up shortly after to loud knocks at my door. Used to this by now, I quickly stumbled out of bed… and immediately realized how sick I really was. Lying still, I felt almost okay, but standing caused intense vertigo, lightheadedness, and nausea. When I opened the door, definitely looking like crap, I was met with the sight of the principal, Pak Syaefudin, and my coteachers Bu Rini, Pak Didik, and Pak Sigit. They were checking to make sure I was okay, and after looking at me for all of a second, they decided that I needed to go to the doctor. I didn’t argue.

The closest place for medical care here is actually the hospital, which is much smaller than those at home; sort of like an informal ER. I stumbled in with all of the awesomely kind and supportive teachers of MAN Kendal, trying and failing to blink back a few tears of misery (the car ride there had not not been easy on my stomach, and I felt like I was going to throw up again), and was immediately led to a bed behind its own private curtain. I got blood drawn from my hand and an IV inserted into the same spot – a fluid drip, because I was dehydrated – and even a nasal cannula delivering oxygen. I didn’t think I needed it, but it helped me to breathe slower and more deeply, which kept the nausea from getting worse. I didn’t throw up again, which I was really happy about (though I came close to doing so in a plastic bag that Bu Rini held open for me). I was given anti-nausea medicine, so I guess It worked. I only had a low fever (they take temperatures under the armpit here, by the way), so nothing serious.

They originally wanted to keep me for six hours of observation before deciding whether I needed to stay the night, but it ended up only being four. Everyone was so nice to me, especially all of the teachers. There was always someone by my bed, rubbing my arm comfortingly, offering me water, or asking how I was feeling.

I felt so extremely lucky to be surrounded by people who actually cared, and despite being sick, it made me feel amazing. I think I apologized to everyone a million times for them having to be there and take time out of their busy schedules, but they were incredibly sincere and continued to quash all of my concerns about them being annoyed or bored. The school even paid the hospital bill (I have no idea how much it was), because they claimed that they were responsible for me. They wouldn’t hear any arguments against it, and said they only cared about me getting rest and feeling healthy. I couldn’t believe their generosity, and it occurred to me that a host school in America wouldn’t be likely to give a foreign teacher the same sort of special treatment that I received here in Indonesia.

I was given three different medicines from the pharmacy to take home (antibiotic, anti-fever, anti-nausea), and am actually still taking them now. I feel much better. Even though I sometimes still get a little woozy when I stand up and walk around, and don’t have my full appetite back yet, I’m definitely getting there.

Even though I wasn’t at 100% by Sunday, there was no way I was missing the wedding I had been invited to! I showed up at the school at just before 6 am that morning, as I had been told; turns out the bus didn’t leave until at least forty minutes later, but that’s Indonesian jam karet: “rubber time”, haha. Almost all of the teachers from the school were coming to the wedding for the daughter of one of the Bapaks; they had chartered a large bus for the 3-4 hour ride to the city of Jepara.

The ride was incredibly relaxing to me, for some reason. I enjoyed listening to the laughter all around me, trying to participate in conversations with my limited Indonesian, and chatting with Pak Sigit about 80s movies and music. For the most part, though, I stared out the window at the passing countryside, much of which was familiar to me.

What was not familiar, however – and what I will remember for quite some time – was the image of countless families washing their clothes and bathing (often at the same time) in the trash-strewn river behind their small, cramped community. Pak Sigit explained to me that they could not afford running water, so the dirty river had become their bathroom. Many of them also depend on fish from that same river to eat. It’s one thing to know that conditions like those exist in the world, but it’s quite another to see them firsthand. I looked down at my clean bottled water and thought of my beautiful villa back in Kendal. I had considered it some sort of sacrifice to give up hot water for the nine short months I would be here, or to occasionally deal with limited to no water pressure. Even compared to other ETAs, who rely on bucket showers from their water reservoir, I have it easy; compared to these people, I was immeasurably rich. It made me feel sad. Why should I have so much when they have so little?

I was a little down, but nonetheless feeling like I was expanding my perspective and experiencing the realities of the world, as was the entire point of this trip. I focused on the positive before me: the wedding!

We had started to enter Jepara, which is a city famous for its lumber and intricate wood carvings. The roadsides were packed with freshly-hewn wooden tables, benches, ornate armchairs, and everything else imaginable. The whole business seemed to be a family affair – whole logs were being stored, chopped, and sculpted in the front and back yards of otherwise ordinary houses. It was incredible. Scattered along the way were indicators of additional weddings to the one we would attend: yellow coconut leaf decorations are traditionally hung high over the entrance to a marriage celebration, and I saw many of them. The days following Idul-Adha are considered the best time of the year to get married; a person may find him/herself attending up to three weddings in one day!

For this reason, it’s surprisingly customary to stay for a very short time at the wedding party, as I would soon find out. We arrived to the sound of live Indonesian music, brightly-colored drapes forming a huge backyard tent, a photo of the happy couple next to a donation box (everyone brought a plain white envelope with money inside), a line of beautifully dressed women directing us to sign the guestbook and to take our free souvenir, which was a hand-painted ashtray, and then – finally – to the main area. To the left were six different food stalls, and, to the right, in front of the  many chairs, was a small stage; the bride and groom were standing on top, posing for photos with alternating guests and family members and shaking the hands of those who had just arrived.

We had missed the actual ceremony, which was a little disappointing to me. Regardless, the dresses, hijabs, and makeup of the wedding party were gorgeous. I won’t even attempt to describe everything; when I can finally post pictures (Facebook isn’t letting me now), you will be able to see for yourself. It is polite to stand in line, and, one-by-one, go up to the stage and congratulate the family, as well as the newlyweds. I felt a little awkward, as I didn’t even know anyone’s name, but everyone seemed thrilled to see me, especially the bride; I wound up posing for pictures with a few different sets of Indonesian guests. Definitely a surreal experience.

The food was delicious, too – sate kambing, or basically goat-meat on a stick (I don’t know why we don’t eat goat in America, it’s good!), soto (soup with rice, bean sprouts, and vegetables), chilled fruit juice, and various sweet pastries. I didn’t even try most of the food, as my stomach was still not cooperating. As I ate, listening to the traditional music being sung by the beautifully-dressed women right behind me, I realized that I had inadvertently become one of the wedding’s main attractions. People were asking for my photo, and the guy in charge of the live music – the one with a microphone – actually announced my presence to everyone. Very strange, but anyway…

I barely had time to take everything in before the teachers I had arrived with began to pack up and go; twenty minutes was sufficient, I guess! I soon realized that there were additional plans aside from the wedding – we stopped at various markets, as well as the house of one of the teachers (her family hosted the entire bus-full of us, providing cold drinks and snacks). Due in part to a severe traffic jam, we didn’t arrive back in Kendal until about 7pm. There really wasn’t time, then, to stay much longer at the wedding than we did.

So that was my crazy week, guys. 🙂 I’m sorry if this was poorly written. I’m still a little out of it and tired, and it’s way past my bedtime now, haha.

I can’t say that I’m completely over feeling homesick or isolated – I haven’t seen a native English-speaker in a month, after all – but things just feel more… normal. I’m feeling happy. And, when my internet went out yet again for about 8 hours today, all I had to do to stay calm and avoid getting frustrated was remember the people I saw at the river. I know that I can’t discount my own feelings – I do rely on the internet to stay in contact with everyone at home, and to get important news, after all – but I knew full well it would come back eventually. In the grand scheme (and even in the smaller scheme, I suppose!) I don’t really have any problems. Life is good.

Sampai jumpa nanti!

Listrik padam, kunjungan keluarga, dan Eid al-Adha!

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So I survived another week! And it was quite an eventful one. The first two things listed in the title of this post translate to “power outages” and “family visits”, while the last – Eid al-Adha (sometimes called Idul-Adha) – is a Muslim holiday that involves sacrificing animals to feel closer to Allah, bring good fortune to the community, and to help feed everyone in the area.

It’s also the very definition of what cultural exchange should entail: I found my own initial views of the concept change dramatically as soon as I was able to witness the event for myself. Though I told myself repeatedly beforehand to have an open mind, I couldn’t help but cringe a little inside at the idea of a sacrifice, at watching blood drain and meat being cut away. It just seemed strange to me… and then I remembered, probably while posing next to the hanging carcass of a goat, that I eat meat. Almost every day. I buy it from the grocery store, shrink-wrapped and ready for consumption, with no idea who butchered the animal, how they did so, or even what part of the body the meat had come from. Eid al-Adha, on the other hand, instills in people a genuine, spiritual, and benevolent motivation behind the act of killing – at its core, it is a holiday meant to bring people closer to one another. Those with little money to buy expensive meat are delivered bags full of prime cuts, painstakingly compiled by their fellow community members. It’s completely and wonderfully admirable. What part of this tradition could there possibly be to protest?

As the students assisted the teachers in hacking, transporting, and portioning the meat, everyone was happy – even in the face of oppressive heat, the smell of the goats (which I kind of enjoyed, since it reminded me of farms at home and the Great Frederick Fair), and the early morning hour. There aren’t many great displays of community spirit back in America, but in Indonesia, it is a way of life. And I loved it. I even received my own little bag of meat, which also included a liver; with no idea how to prepare it on my own, I gave it to Bu Supartinah later in the evening, who instantly began cooking up something delicious. It was surreal to see its transformation from dead, fur-covered goat, alive that same morning, to marinated meat simmering in a pan. Obviously I knew where meat came from before this experience, but still. It was sort of amazing.

After the celebration, I remembered that, a few days beforehand, I had been told that I’d be able to pose for photos with the sacrificed animals by excited ibus at my school. I’d immediately said “no thanks, I think I’ll just look” – I couldn’t imagine ever even wanting to stand next to a bloody, dead carcass, and it seemed… wrong, somehow. It wasn’t a viewpoint I thought might change. But when I arrived at the school, and began to watch the people cut away the flesh from the hanging goats, I was fascinated. A bit repulsed, maybe (especially by the blood, as I had to delicately avoid stepping on the occasional splatter), but fascinated all the same.

Others, including my counterpart Pak Sigit, were posing with a knife next to the animals, and they wanted me to do the same. It was about sharing the experience together, being part of the community, part of the event, not about expressing power over the goat or making light of the situation. Unfortunately, my uncertainty and discomfort meant that I really didn’t know how to stand or what to do with my face. The result is that I look like an overly-happy, sort of crazy killer. Oh well. And though it would probably have been okay, I didn’t actually cut into the animal at all. I left that to people who knew what they were doing.

I had originally planned to witness the sacrifice. While I might not have exactly been looking forward to it,  I knew that it would be an unforgettable cultural experience. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, I haven’t quite decided!), Bu Supartinah and I arrived a bit too late; the “cutting” had been carried out earlier than planned. Maybe I’ll have another chance in the future, who knows? 🙂

So that was Eid-al-Adha. Cultural exchange at its finest! I couldn’t be happier that I went. There are plenty of (somewhat grisly) pictures on Facebook for anyone interested, including some great ones of the sweet students happily smiling while holding entire legs, internal organs, and hunks of meat. It was oddly funny to witness.

This actually took place today (Sunday) – while some other interesting things happened before that, I think I’ll do what I did last time and just make a list of some anecdotes rather than start another lengthy narrative… which I tend to do without meaning to.

1) School is getting better and better. The novelty of my presence hasn’t yet worn off – at all – but I keep hoping it will! I spent every day at the north campus, where Grade 10 is located; I have a concrete schedule now, and the Indonesian government for some reason prefers that to be the grade we “officially” work with. I was able to participate more in the classroom, explaining portions of the lesson, reviewing work written on the board, and reading things aloud so the students could listen to native speaker pronunciation. So far, so good!

2) I had two more meetings of English Conversation Club (ECC)! The first, on Tuesday, was actually the first meeting of Group #2. I had already seen Group #1 the previous Thursday. There was an amazing delivery of books, games, and activities from AMINEF this week, and I used the picture/word cards during Thursday’s ECC so the students could test their vocabulary and challenge themselves to speak. Next comes trying to sing some songs in English. 🙂

3) There is a wedding next Sunday that I’ve been invited to! I’m really excited to go and witness traditional Javanese customs.

4) Cicaks (those little lizards) can be LOUD! I can often hear one squealing, and it’s usually from somewhere indiscernible in the house. Also, ants come out of NOWHERE. I bought green apple Windex and it’s great for killing them. For cleaning, too, obviously, but the pesticide properties made me even more excited. I’ve already used half the bottle.

5) Going to Bu Supartinah’s for dinner is a tradition now! I’m getting more and more comfortable at her house, and I got to meet two of her daughters this week, as they came home briefly from university for Eid al-Adha. It was really nice – especially as that first meeting came after a day of no internet. For whatever reason, there was no signal, and I found myself getting frustrated. Going to Bu Supartinah’s and having a wonderful time with no technology to be found reminded me that I’m here to immerse myself in a new culture, not to rely on my laptop for entertainment.

6) However… when I returned home that same evening, I was thrilled to see that the internet was back! About an hour after that, though, the power went out. No fun. I had run out of pulsa (like a cell phone, I needed to buy more time), but it was too late; I’d have to wait until the next morning. So I went to bed in the dark, and without A/C. And… I survived. 🙂

7) Early the next morning, I left with Pak Didik and his wife, Bu Rini (both English teachers here at MAN), as well as their two sons (aged 13 and 22) to visit Bu Rini’s family. They live in a small village high up in the mountains. Though close to an hour away, it is still part of Kendal. It was really nice to just look out the windows at the passing scenery: highlights were the ride paddies, steppe farms on the side of sheer hillsides, and the vast amount of rubber trees: they’re planted in straight lines, with a spigot stuck into the bark so the rubber can collect in a little bowl. The village was very rural, but extremely beautiful. There were banana trees everywhere, as well as so many other kinds of plants I can’t even begin to identify!

Bu Rini purposely didn’t tell her family – which includes her mother, sister, and young nephew – that I was coming; she wanted them to be surprised. And they definitely were. They were so incredibly friendly and hospitable, happy to have me in their home and eating their delicious food. We all rested on floor mats, ate, posed for photos, and watched a movie in Indonesian on TV. I then took a stroll around the village with Bu Rini, who introduced me to many of the neighbors. A couple of small children seemed to fear me and ran away, but were coerced by their mothers to take a photo with me and to shake my hand, hehe. I always wonder what is done with these photos after I leave. Are they kept? Printed out? Put on Facebook? I have no idea, but there must be hundreds of photos of me now circulating around Kendal.

Overall, it was an incredibly relaxing, leisurely day. To top it off, Bu Rini gave me an unexpected shoulder/arm massage in the car on the way back because she was worried that I had mentioned being slightly carsick on the way there and wanted me to be able to rest. Have I mentioned yet how kind and selfless people in Indonesia are?

8) Later that same evening, I found myself eating dinner at Bu Supartinah’s house with her daughters when the power suddenly went out. It was completely pitch-dark until Lutfi, the oldest daughter, found the small emergency light to illuminate the kitchen for us. This time, the problem wasn’t pulsa-related, but simply one of the many random outages that Indonesia can experience. Apparently, they range anywhere from a few hours to a few days. We drank tea, ate cantaloupe, and sat on the back porch with the neighbors, and Bu Supartinah offered to let me sleep over for the night to avoid returning to a dark house alone (I don’t have an emergency light yet. I should really buy one). I was a little frustrated at first, because all I wanted to do was go home, take a cold shower, and check Facebook (haha), but I mentally slapped myself and reminded myself to enjoy every experience that comes my way. As soon as I accepted not getting the power back for quite a while, it came back. Funny how things work out! Every temporary inconvenience can turn into a lasting memory. That’s quickly becoming my philosophy for this trip. 🙂

I think that’s it for now. This is exceptionally long, wow. I’m sorry. I should go, as I still need to shower before I go to bed; I’ll be up early to watch the students take an exam. We’ll see how useful I am! The next two weeks are devoted to testing, so my schedule might be a bit up in the air. We’ll see. Selamat malam to those in the same timezone, and selamat pagi to everyone else! Well, that’s more of a greeting than a goodbye, but I do hope you have a good morning! Sampai jumpa nanti to everyone! Thank you for reading!

Saya akan belajar Bahasa Indonesia…

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Today definitely required two posts! The first one, below, focused on arrival and orientation, and – though I intended to talk about Kendal as well in the same entry – it would have been way too long! So here goes. This is the adventure that began on the last day of orientation and will continue until May 30…

We had all left Bandung Sunday morning, loading our things into the bus and saying goodbye to the luxury of the Trans Hotel. The previous night, we had been treated to a visit by the owner of the hotel and much of the staff, who thanked us for our stay and handed out fancy gift bags to each and every one of us (as if we hadn’t already been spoiled!) We received matching baseball caps emblazoned with the hotel’s logo, a reminder to all of us where we had begun our Indonesian journey. As we posed for the group photo with the kind owner and hotel employees, I feel all of us were acutely aware that we were soon to leave this safe bubble and begin a crazy journey. But we were ready.

The plan was to take the bus back to Jakarta, stay overnight at a hotel close to the airport, and then to depart early Monday morning for our varying destinations. About 20 ETAs had already had their visa application approved by the Indonesian government, which meant they were headed to Singapore for a day trip in order to obtain their permanent stay visas. I was not part of this group – as I had been assigned to a MAN (Islamic school), along with nine others, our applications take longer to process; they are routed to the Ministry of Religion rather than Education. What this meant for me is that I would be headed to my site immediately. Singapore would hopefully be sometime in October, and in the meantime I could get my visa on arrival extended another month in Kendal.

Anyway, I began to feel nauseous on the bus ride. Despite wanting to make sure I could say goodbye to the other ETAs and enjoy this last day of hotel life, I knew that I was going to be sick and had to rest. Sure enough, after arriving in my room (we had our own this time), I immediately threw up. I felt better right afterwards, but still tired and a little queasy; these feelings weren’t helped by the nerves roiling around within me at the realization that I would be at my site by that time the next day! I had no idea what to expect. I rested in the room, ordered room service, and went to bed early, as my short flight (along with Clare and Eliza, placed together in Semarang, an hour from my site) was at 8am. It wasn’t until the morning that I realized that I had sacrificed my chance to say bye to anyone, as we all left at different times. My separation from the larger group, then, was abrupt and unceremonious… but we would meet again in December for the mid-year conference. I reminded myself of that and felt a little better.

I could talk for a bit about the ridiculousness of that morning and the craziness of the airport, but I don’t want to fill too much space… suffice to say that the experience was… different… than other airports. Haha. The flight was only an hour or so long, and then the three of us found ourselves walking across the scorching tarmac in Semarang, Central Java, about to meet our headmasters for the first time. We were a little nervous. This feeling wasn’t assuaged a bit when we saw the baggage claim: it was a short, straight belt that simply ended, and combined the baggage from more than one flight. Everything was fine, however, and we grabbed our bags, met for a quick motivational huddle, and walked through the doorway to begin our adventure.

Again, my departure from Clare and Eliza was swift – as soon as my headmaster Pak Syaefudin spotted me, he led me away to the car at a quick pace, while Clare and Eliza were herded off with their own counterparts. My school is a bit less than an hour from Semarang, and Pak Syaefudin was eager to feed me well and then let me “take a rest”. My first impression of him was that he was jolly and kind: short, a bit round, and prone to laughter. He was accompanied by a driver who spoke no English, but who welcomed me with a smile and a slight bow. I wasn’t exactly hungry, but it’s difficult to convince Indonesians of that – Pak Syaefudin, who said he was like my father now and that it was his job to take care of me, insisted that we eat some ayam goreng (fried chicken) and nasi putih (white rice). It was delicious, but I ate my food with the sensation of having many, many eyes focused on me. I have never been stared at so much in my life, and it hasn’t stopped since then! I was also very aware that I was consuming fresh fruit juice with ice cubes as well as raw vegetables, all of which were in the “no-no” section at orientation when it came to risking intestinal discomfort. It took me all of 10 minutes to go against one of the first warnings I had received. Yay for Indonesia and living life on the edge.

After lunch, I was taken to my house. And what a house it is. Pictures take forever to upload to this site, but I have posted them to Facebook so everyone can see – I won’t bother to describe the “villa”, as it is called, because I could talk about it all day, but all that matters is that it’s much too much for one person! It’s the biggest and nicest house I have ever lived in my entire life. I took a few minutes to drop my bags and explore, and then we went to the school (a mere 3 minute walk away, though the headmaster drove me this time). There is actually a north and a south campus, and I am conveniently situated right in the middle of the two. The surrounding area is very rural; there are chickens strutting about the lane, as well as some female peacocks and random stray cats. I also have a small catfish pond in front of my house, and there is what resembles a moat – but what I think is drainage, as there is trash strewn within it – alongside the road by my house. Small fish can be seen swimming within it, so I can’t quite figure out its purpose.

The school itself immediately made me feel welcome. It is a collection of buildings, boarding houses for students on the border and bright green walls in many of the classrooms. It was here that I met my counterpart and new Indonesian best friend, Pak Sigit. After a brief sit-down in the headmaster’s office (we discussed the fact that I do not yet have a schedule, so I will be in a sort of “orientation”, introducing myself to classes of all grades and floating around), I introduced myself to a few classes with Pak Sigit.

As I was the first ETA to ever be placed at MAN Kendal… (though my headmaster has worked with ETAs before at a different school)…

The. Students. FREAKED. It was crazy. They literally cheered after I left, and hung out of windows to see me. In the last two weeks, I have posed for more photos and selfies than I thought humanly possible. It made me feel great that everyone was so excited, but also strangely distant, alone, and even frustrated – not AT the students, they were really sweet and had the best intentions – but it takes a lot of energy to pose for countless photos amidst hordes of teenagers in the heat. What’s so special about me? I look different, sure, but I’m not famous, not extra-special, just a person, like them. It makes me feel strange to be placed on a pedestal, because they are basically placing America on a pedestal. They pointed to my white skin, commented on my longer nose and light eyes, marveled at my height and how “beautiful” I was. The thing is, however, that these girls were beautiful to me, and I doubt they believe it. My traits are valued because they’re “western”, despite the fact that many Americans look nothing like me. I just happen to fit the stereotype. I hate the idea of teenagers trying to conform to a different, and arbitrary, standard of beauty that they will never fit. But I suppose every society is like that. While Indonesian girls whiten their skin, Americans tan it. I suppose there’s really no difference.

Anyway, I was also very conscious of the fact that my hair was uncovered by a hijab. As this was an Islamic school, that was part of the dress code for all female students and employees (though outside of school, many women elect not to wear one). My counterpart kindly and casually mentioned to me that it would be more appropriate to wrap a scarf around my head for the next couple of days until I could buy real hijabs. Strangely, although many American women might feel odd at this request, I was okay with it. I see it as respectful of the school culture and dress code, but made clear that I will not be wearing one outside of school save for special occasions. That was perfectly okay with them, and perfectly okay with me in return. Outside of school, I was free to wear my “comfortable clothes” (which still don’t include shorts or tank tops), but as for in-school, I would be relegated to long skirts/pants (and with pants, a longer shirt to cover my backside), long sleeves or 3/4 sleeves, and covering up the skin below my neck (which is taken care of by a scarf or hijab).

After my quick visit at the school, Pak Sigit took me on the back of his motorbike (sidesaddle, since I was in a long skirt!) to the small tech store so I could buy an internet modem for my computer, and then I went home to rest and unpack. Pak Sigit and I bonded over stories of home and of Indonesia, as well as shared a laugh at the fact that I somehow misplaced my house key (“Don’t forget your key!” is the new mantra we both repeat). We climbed through an open window and then waited for a locksmith to come and fashion a new key, drinking some water fresh from my new water cooler and trying in vain to figure out my internet. He actually called the teenaged sales girl to come over and help, which she did! Great customer service that is. 🙂

So, rather than detail the next few days, I will simply make a list of some highlights:

1) Teaching so far has consisted of sitting in various classrooms, for different grades, introducing myself and fielding curious questions (“Will you marry with me?” “What do you think of food in Indonesia?”) I am technically not allowed to teach on my own until receiving my permanent visa, but I’m enjoying just being there and observing.

2) My power went out about 3 days into my stay because I underestimated how much using the A/C in my bedroom would cost (you buy as you go here, sort of like adding minutes to a cellphone). Then it happened again a couple of days later, and they actually called an electrician over to inspect the problem. There was no definitive conclusion aside from “use your A/C less if you don’t want to pay $80/month”, so okay.

3) One of the first days I was at school, I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge talking to some of the ibus (“Ibu” is the term of respect for a female teacher or authority figure and literally means mother, while “Pak” is saved for men) when a rat crawled out from the window above me, scurried down the wall, and across the floor. The women thought it was very funny, and told me the “mouse” (it was totally a rat) was welcoming me to MAN Kendal.

4) Much like the electricity, I used my first internet SIM card much too quickly and ended up having to venture back out with Pak Sigit to buy more.  I bought four SIM cards up-front, and hope they’ll last me at least a month.

5) I saw a 3-inch cockroach in my bedroom scurry under my bed, and still haven’t figured out where it went. I now keep a towel under the door to stop insects from coming in, as well as to keep the cold air in my room.

6) There is no hot water, but I wouldn’t want it anyway. There’s also pretty much no water pressure and no water in the morning, since that’s when everyone showers and it’s all used up, so I brush my teeth with a bottle of water.

7) My Indonesian is definitely tidak bagus (not good). Hence the title of this entry: it’s what I keep telling everyone. “Saya akan belajar Bahasa Indonesia” – “I will study Bahasa Indonesian”.

8) They eat A LOT of tofu and tempe here. I like it. And also, things are waaaay spicier than I’d expect from such a hot country.

9) I went from not knowing where to get food to having altogether too much – the headmaster began having the school send me three meals a day, which begins with breakfast (a loud knocking at the door at 6:24 am is a great way to wake up). I have since told the school that lunch alone is sufficient, because I already receive food from my neighbor, don’t usually eat breakfast, and hate throwing away food (microwaves are not a thing here, apparently).

10) My neighbor and fellow teacher, Bu (short for “Ibu”, the term of respect) Supartinah, is the kindest and most amazing woman ever. She sold me hijabs and clothes at a discount, also sells water for the water cooler, and gives me food. Frequently. Sometimes I come to her house, and other times she comes to mine. She calls me her daughter and says that she loves me (much less dramatic a statement here than back home) and will take care of me. She speaks no English, however, so we rely mainly on my sketchy Indonesian to communicate.

11) Sometimes I get random and unexpected visitors bearing food, so must always look presentable.

12) I get to host English club on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they might add an English club for teachers as well. I also finally have a solid schedule for Grade 10, and will start tomorrow.

13) The small village children now know where I live, and a group of about 10 or so will sometimes show up at my house, knocking on the door and windows and calling my name. They also follow me, whenever they see me, wherever I go.

14) Indonesians REALLY like my nose.

15) This morning, I was enjoying sleeping in when I got a text at 5:30 from a friend and fellow teacher of mine saying that he and his wife would take me to the market at 7:00, if that was okay. I would have gone to bed earlier had I known this, but it was really cool. Gotta roll with the unexpected punches here!

16) The internet sucks, and goes out sometimes, but I really miss everyone and want to make sure that I can talk to you often! A schedule will be easier when I develop more of a routine.

17) I have more than 400 friends on the second Facebook account that I made, which is for the sole purpose of communicating with Indonesian students and letting them practice their English.

18) There are two daddy long-legs spiders that live in my bathroom, high towards the ceiling (which is two stories, so too high to reach). I let them live because they eat the mosquitoes and seem to stay stationary. I have named them Larry and Frank. There are also little lizards, called cicaks, everywhere.

Well, I guess that’s it for now! I know I didn’t touch on everything, but I will continue to post as I think of additional stories and as more things continue to happen. Terima kasih to everyone for reading! 🙂

Selamat datang di Indonesia!

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Selamat hari Minggu (Happy Sunday) everyone! So I have finally decided to start a blog. I’m not entirely sure why I have waited until now, almost a month after arriving in Indonesia – maybe my head has just been too full of things to even consider doing anything remotely challenging. So far, my free time has consisted of a lot of sweating, sitting, ruminating, and considering life in general, wondering about what the next day – and the many, many days after that – will bring. I have also occasionally tried to clean, and have successfully accomplished hand-washing a few loads of laundry in my bathroom. It was strangely enjoyable and fulfilling – I have never had to rely on myself in such a way before, and it made me feel more sure of myself and independent here. (Of course, the first time Ibu Supartinah, the woman who lives next to me, came over, she looked at my floors and immediately offered to help me clean. I had just finished mopping, so I guess I have some improving to do!)

Now, however, I feel more adjusted, awake, and aware than I have so far, and am more than a little inspired by all of the great posts I have read from my fellow ETAs. I am also energized by the fact that today marked my first venture into town by myself, unaccompanied by an Indonesian escort, to go shopping. In general, people have been very hesitant to let me go anywhere alone, scared that something will happen to me… they are responsible for my safety, after all, and this trip is funded by the U.S. government, so I suppose I can understand their wariness. Kendal, however, doesn’t strike me as a dangerous town. It’s small, somewhere between a city and a rural alcove, with no shopping malls or Western restaurants to be found. I am also the only foreigner pretty much anyone here has ever seen, which has given me instant celebrity status (note: I never want to be famous. I know that now.)

My counterpart, Pak Sigit, took me on a dry-run of how to take the small bus from the school to the general store last weekend to ensure that I was suitably prepared to do so alone (which is why there was no good reason for anyone to tell me that I couldn’t go today!) At least four different people reminded me to call them if I got lost or ran into any trouble, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their concern. It’s good to know that so many people have my back.

But anyway, I’m getting a little ahead of myself! I guess I should go back to the beginning. My arrival in Bandung for orientation was bizarre, mainly because I hadn’t slept in about two days (I flew a little over an hour to Chicago, then 13 hours to Tokyo, then 6 hours to Singapore, then endured a 9-hour layover – in the most beautiful airport in the world, by the way – and flew an hour the next morning to Jakarta. Then came a 4-hour bus ride to Bandung. I had also barely slept the night before the trip, so I was a little… bugged out.)

The trip in and of itself was a memorable adventure, not only because of the sights and sounds of the foreign airports and the excitement that I felt at beginning this experience, but because the entirety of the time was spent in the company of the other Fulbright ETAs. I met four others at the BWI airport, and our group slowly but surely continued to grow like lint stuck to Velcro as we encountered others from around the country from one layover to the next. I was lucky enough to sit between two ETAs on the longest flight of the journey, and we were able to get to know one another and swap travel stories and teaching experiences. The highlight for me was Changi Airport in Singapore, because by that point almost everyone was together (nearly 35 of us). We camped on the floor of a rest lounge and helped keep each other awake, and some of us ventured to explore the huge airport, considered the best in the world. Some paid $8 to take a hot shower. I bought some Starbucks and went to the butterfly garden with a few other ETAs (free and open even at 2am), as well as took a peek at the free movie theater, sculpture garden, and various other attractions. I didn’t get to see the water slide or the swimming pool, but they exist. I want to live in that airport.

Anyway, we arrived in Jakarta barely awake, though I think we all received a burst of energy when we stepped outside and felt the hot, humid air of Indonesia for the first time. As we waited for our bus to take us to Bandung, AMINEF staff (The American-Indonesian Exchange Foundation, which works with Fulbright) circulated around handing out water bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts. It was unexpected, but definitely welcome! As we finally piled into the bus, we began to chatter excitedly, peering out the windows and observing the incredible scenery.

It began with the city of Jakarta – tall buildings, beggars, mansions and ramshackle huts – and continued up into the mountains, complete with distant views of volcanoes, controlled bush fires, a surprise burst of rain, rice paddies, and incredibly green foliage. This visual tour was punctuated by intelligent, academic conversation that made me chuckle – I have never been around so many people as interested in school as I was! Fulbright road trip games consist of complex word games and riddles, apparently. 🙂 Everyone is so impressive, smart, experienced, fascinating, kind, and eager to get to know one another. We all instantly accepted each other as part of the same club. We were all about to experience the same thing, go through the same trials and highs… I think we could all sense that the people around us would soon become our closest support system. Soon enough, however, the din inside the bus began to quiet a bit as some of us hit a figurative wall. I passed out on my seat and don’t even remember falling asleep; it was completely involuntary.

I woke up in Bandung as we approached our hotel, home for the next two weeks. I had heard tell from the returning ETAs that we would be spoiled, but nothing could have prepared me for how luxurious the Trans Hotel really was. Especially after having just seen shacks erected under bridges on the way there… it was an extreme contrast. We entered the lobby, gross and exhausted, and were met with the sight of a giant crystal dragon suspended in the rafters, a grand staircase that wouldn’t have been out of place in Prince Charming’s castle, and a spread of snacks and tea to tide us over until the dinner we would soon receive. Our luggage had already been carted off to our rooms, and as our roommates were assigned and key cards handed out, we were told that the opening banquet would be held at 6:00. It was about 4:30 at the time, and all that most of us wanted was a shower and to sleep; now we had to make ourselves presentable and dress in formal attire for a ceremony. We all tried to disguise our displeasure (I doubt we did this successfully), as we were also extremely grateful to be there and excited for what was to come. It was such a strange mixture of emotions.

My (awesome) roommate Emily and I trudged sleepily to our rooms, showered, and began pulling clothing options out of our suitcases to wear to the banquet. Everything in my bag was pressed down, damp from humidity, and wrinkled, but we both managed to make ourselves look nice and awake (on the outside, at least!) and entered the ballroom for our dinner. Looking back, I don’t think I fully absorbed the experience, as I felt like I was living it through a haze of exhaustion. I had time to appreciate how good the other ETAs looked, as I had only seen them in travel attire up until that point, as well as to enjoy some good food. Though I don’t remember what I ate. At all. We were treated to some traditional dance performances and singing, which I’m sure were incredible, but I had begun to feel slightly hysterical from lack of sleep and had an uncontrollable urge to start laughing at the absurdity of the situation and at how quickly my life had changed. Luckily, I was able to hold that in. 🙂

The next two weeks were so many things: amazing, educational, fun, boring, scary, exciting, joyful, uncertain… I think I experienced every emotion possible. The positive descriptions come from the interactions with the wonderful people around me, my ability to learn from the returning ETAs and from Rai (who went from ETA last year to AMINEF staff and coordinator this year), the luxuries of the hotel (which included delicious food, crazy soft bathrobes, and 24-7 free cappuccino and snacks), and the overriding feeling that I was about to begin something amazing. The language courses were my favorite part of the whole thing: three hours a day of engaging and informative lessons from the best teacher in the world, the adorable and helpful Jono. He taught us about jongkok, demonstrated rude Indonesian hand gestures, and expressed his love of Metallica and Hot Wheels. It was great. We all miss you, Jono! There were actually four different language groups, mostly beginner-level but also an advanced course for the scattered language smarties, but our class clearly had the best teacher.

We were booked from 8am until 5-6pm every day with informational sessions, and as I took notes and listened attentively, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were in school again. I certainly did not feel as if I were in Indonesia – aside from the views outside my window of the mosque, listening to the frequent calls to prayer, and a few ventures outside to eat at warungs (food stalls) for dinner, I did not see much of Bandung itself. After the first week, many of us did get the chance to visit a nearby volcano – that’s when it really sunk in that I was on the other side of the world. I loved it.

“Scary” enters into the picture solely because the more I learned from others, the more I realized that the year would surely bring with it a share of hardships, some of which I have already begun to experience and which I will detail in the next entry. With the fear came eagerness, however, to overcome obstacles I would face; obstacles are what make travel experiences memorable, after all! “Boredom” is a word that is perhaps unfair to use, but I think all of us will remember for quite a long time some of the sessions we sat through in Indonesian (with subsequent English translation) about such things as the legal system and the visa process. Both were helpful topics, but much too detailed to suit our immediate needs! None of this is a negative towards the presenters, however; I was grateful for their welcoming presence, and their style of relaying information was actually a bit of a cultural crash-course. It’s just different overall.

All of us spent many of the sessions doodling on our papers, indulging in the delicious chewy mints always on the table, and over-drinking the omnipresent bottles of water set before us. During our short breaks, we’d exit the conference room into the vast hallways, filled with trays of traditional Indonesian food, beverages, fruit, and pastries served to us by absurdly and genuinely friendly staff. We practiced our burgeoning Indonesian when we could, but we weren’t generally met with the stares and open-mouthed astonishment that I have encountered in Kendal, at least in the hotel. Guests there were wealthy and well-traveled, so we weren’t anything particularly new to them – but we were quite a sight when we were all together, I suppose. We carted our multi-colored expandable folders and traveled en masse from one conference room to the next.

This is getting ridiculously long, and I still want to write an entry about my first two weeks in Kendal, so I think I’ll leave it here for now! There is no way to touch on everything, of course; I feel like I’m forgetting many important points about orientation, but I just don’t have the time or ability to transcribe it all. My parting sentiment is that it was unforgettable.

I am so lucky to be here.