Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sumba culture

Hey everyone,
First off, Merry Christmas from Bali! I've already mentioned that I'm not really celebrating Christmas, but it's still pretty cool to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt and be glad there is AC on Christmas day, and oh yeah I was walking on the beach and swimming in the tropical water on Christmas Eve!
I'm actually only in Bali for transit. I'm coming from Sumba where Ashley and I traveled. It was a really interesting experience. Ashley and I managed the entire trip where the best English we ran across was a 17year old boy (i.e. our Bahasa Indo is better than we thought!). And not only did we survive, but we really enjoyed ourselves (though there were several times it looked like going to Sumba or doing whatever we had decided on was the wrong choice). We got into Sumba really only having decided that we wanted to stay in the western portion because we had a limited amount of time. We ended up taking a business class style bus to the town we wanted and stumbled into a hotel. That afternoon we toured around a bit on the back of ojecks (motorcycle taxis) led by the LP (lonely planet), Before that however we had found a traditional village, literally a 5 minute walk from our hotel and in the middle of the city. As touristy as this would be in the U.S., it felt legit there, and the people were really nice. We spent at least a n hour sitting and chatting with the people there (largely some of the children, both because they had some English and just because it made it less awkward). That village ended up being a good warmer up for us because throughout the rest of the time on Sumba we spent a lot of time sitting and chatting with people and entering villages; figuring out when to give gifts, what to give, etc is a bit difficult, especially when at least for me, I'm trying not to seem like some big shot westerner coming in and throwing money around. It's impossible not to look like a rich westerner though because there is definitely significant poverty there (maybe I just noticed it more since we were more immersed in it). On that note, I'm not sure I would have wanted to go to a location that was much more remote than Sumba without significantly more preparation, but Sumba was perfect; it felt like we were really getting in and meeting people, but there was enough of an infrastructure that it was still somewhat possible. Coming in the low season but before the rainy season (which was supposedly late this year) was a big help as well. Supposedly the people in Sumba see 'many' bules, but I have a feeling their defn of many maybe a little diff than mine.
Ok this is getting long so I'll just list the highlights:
-an amazing 'drop hole' cave and waterfall that was a former power plant and current washing hole.
-A stunning, deserted, white sand, crystal clear beach
-spending hours just chatting with everyday people
-the stunning traditional houses and huge stone/cement tomb/megaliths
-GORGEOUS sunsets over a sea that continued all the way to Africa (kinda cool!)
-Befriending the local 17year old who came from a pretty big family that had nothing (the father was the seeming breadwinner and he collected coconuts for a living). We took him various places for a little more than a day and he acted as a voluntary guide. Ashley also had the fantastic idea to give a cell phone for a Christmas present. It may seem a little ridiculous, but handphones are hugely popular in Indonesia and the kid really had next to nothing. It was a pretty nice feeling, even if I'm not celebrating Christmas!
-And oh yeah, should also mention we did a village stay! You know, no big deal! What that means is that we spent one night hanging out with some local villagers in their home, slept in their traditional bamboo home (the horses and pig were underneath), chatted with them all evening, ate dinner with them, and then gave in and bought some Oleh-oleh from them (basically we got a very unique experience, that is about as authentic as you can get without being an anthropologist (ran into one of those, flying from Flores), and they got more money than they would have earned any other way > everyone was happy!).

Ok I guess that's about enough for now!

The take home is that I'm safe, sound, and having an amazing time!

Happy holidays to all

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What a fantastic weekend!

Here’s as brief as I can reasonably make it, recount of my Thanksgiving weekend:
Of course the travels weren’t as smooth as expected but I spent the night with Jimmy and got to the airport in plenty of time the next morning.
The night I stayed I got a nice big free dinner with Thin Thin (Jimmy’s friend) for her Bday: Chinese food, best fried rice in a long time, pork ribs, crab, and more! The following morning I also went to Jimmy’s school; he works in a cave (though the mati lampu didn’t help), but the school’s not SO bad. The students seemed kinda rowdy, but nothing too out of the ordinary here.
No issues on plane, got in, got the bag and went to bus station to wait for Kerry, hassle-ers backed off when I spoke Indo (I was pleased with my Indo throughout trip asI spent quite a bit of tiem chatting people up).
After hanging with Dani and Erica at Dani’s school (once we found her, her phone had been on silent) we went to Cassie’s mansion: she has a homestay with a really nice older woman whose son must be LOADED.
From there a group of us including Mike and Cassie and another Fulbrighter (a judicial reform researcher, named Bill) went to a giant nearby mall and to a Western grocer with tons of foods I hadn’t seen in months and then to an Italian restaurant (OMG! Lasagna!) and then out until 2-3 am at two clubs: I see why there are so many ex-pats here. This was the first time I got to live like that, and while it seems completely different from what I’ve been doing, and frankly out of touch with the general reality of Indo, it was/is a ton of fun!
Up early the next morning eventually got Erica and Kerry to go with me to Arab quarter, not too much, just shops, though we should have gone in temple. Did buy some sort of muffin like thing there for B-fast.
We were lost for awhile, but eventually got to Chinese quarter after some random woman insisted that we take a becok she payed for. The temple there was really nice and some guy served as a bit of free (well we didn’t pay him anyway, because we didn’t ask for him either) tour guide. Kerry started feeling crappy but bounced back so we walked to the ‘red bridge’ (some significance that escaped me) and then to McD’s (it was an Ex-Pat day!) before returning to Cassie’s.
Chilled/napped until Thanksgiving dinner which was FANTASTIC! It was held in the home of the consulate general; I met an artist there who was here on an independent Fulbright and had an interesting conversation with her about the view of artists here (male artists are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want, including sexually). Also finally had some wine again (not supposed to since I had just finished the meds that morning, but whatever!). Great company, mostly ETAs there, but some other folks, we went around the room and people said what they were thankful for. It was kind of corny, but really made for a nice feeling too, I was surprised at how heartwarming it all felt. And the food was delicious, as V said ‘Hunger is the best spice’. It was also really nice to catch up with so many people. It made me realize just how different my placement is; Java is really nice, it is much more city or more city-like setting and that changes everything. That’s not to say it’s all city, just that the city’s are much closer and more developed including public transport. I still like my posting, but to be honest a more city/rural combo would be nice. Part of it is on me that I’m not getting out of the Pesantren enough though.
I wanted to leave earlier Friday morning, but b/c we didn’t, we saw a goat slaughter and also met the owner of the house. Idul Adha, which is what the slaughtering was for, is surprisingly similar to Thanksgiving: relaxing with family, eating a lot, reflecting on what’s good, donation of food to the poor, etc.
Ashley, V, Dani and I got to bus station and had to take a bus to Jemper which meant we were on a bus to the wrong town and had no place to stay (we tried to call several times to no avail). Once in Jemper we took an angkot, then another angkot (following some friendly people) which got 22 people, 3 big bags and a regular backpack stuffed into it! There was also the crappy driver who was always stopping to recruit more riders and almost left the little boy who was peeing behind. We hopped out in Bondowoso after seeing a sign for a hotel, and walked to the hotel, but found it to be a little more expensive and fancy than we wanted. They rec’d another spot not far away that proved to be really helpful. Michael, the son-in-law of the owner of the cheaper hotel, was fresh from LA with his wife and 2.5month old son and was eager to be helpful; we didn’t end up using their car (though they gave a fantastic deal, just like they did with dinner) as Dani had a friend of a friend through CouchSurfing who was able to give us an even better deal.
We didn’t really sleep as we woke up at 130am to go to Kawah Ijen and the road was too rough to sleep. The night sky was gorgeous! We arrived after going through 3 registrations and paying the post fee itself; since it was getting light, V and I took off to try to get up to the top for sunrise. As it turned out you can’t see the sunrise at the top b/c of another peak, but we did get some nice pics of clouds being lit up. I didn’t go so fast as not to notice and appreciate the ridiculously heavy sulfur baskets on the backs of these little Indonesian men. Each basket ways around 70-100kgs and these guys pack them down on their backs down some pretty steep trails (my knees hurt enough to need Ibuprofen and that was just with my backpack!)
When we got there (took me 55mins to do the 3.2 km) the visibility was almost nonexistent through the sulfur steam, but we got to watch as it burned off and I hiked above on the rim so I saw the sun pour into the crater. The color of the lake is a stunning opaque turquoise and the nice blue of the sky and the yellow of the sulfur all combine to make a beautiful scene. The sulfur also has the effect of letting out noxious fumes that do significant damage to the lungs of the men down there harvesting the sulfur shortly after it hardens (it’s liquid due to the volcanic pressure and heat); apparently the men get paid relatively well, but their life expectancy is significantly shortened. Ashley and Dani went below to the sulfur section; which was good teamwork because we got pictures from all the spots that way! The sulfur also made some places look like a scorched earth and gave grey coatings elsewhere.
All of us were able to get caught up and walked down together after almost missing each other. Our guide, Yoyo, drove us to a nice waterfall along the way (green water from the volcanic action) and then to one of the coffee plantations/home-stay (Catimore). I was a little disturbed by some of the obvious deforestation around, but it was still attractive, just not primary forest. Driving down into the valley of the plantation was an awesome feeling, felt like I was really entering a remote village; maybe helped by the commune feel in the little mini-city (everyone had a garden, including strawberries). Also, there was cabbage everywhere! Had late b-fast then Yoyo took us to this awesome waterfall in the plantation; the hot water and the cold water mix right before it plunges. We then went on to some ‘caves’ that were really just recesses into the rock walls, but very cool nonetheless; it was a bit of a scramble to the caves on tired legs. All in all: Really awesome!
So late by the time we were done we took off straight for Problingo with a stop in Bondowoso (bought some oleh-oleh: fermented cassava called tape). After a good dinner (Yoyo’s choice), yeah beer, good to be healthy again (!), we dropped Ashley off at the bus and headed up the mountain to Bromo in the dark. Got a great hotel deal (again Yoyo’s choice, the three of us split a spartan room for 104.000Rp with tax, breakfast, a shared HOT shower, and tea when we arrived and in the morning before leaving for Bromo, and Yoyo stayed free), but may have stayed in the drivers quarters. Good deal was tempered by the entrance fee fiasco where we had to pay a separate entrance fee though we believed it was part of the expensive jeep fee (300.000Rp, the company has a monopoly on it and charge fees that are too high for what they provide (basically just a ride), but we ended up getting the majority of that back). Again up early for the drive to Bromo to see an AMAZING sunrise, one of the best I’ve seen. Though as soon as the sun was visible, it hit the haze and the sun itself was no longer pretty, though some of the mountains were; hung out there a long time taking way too many pics. Then down the mountain, actually crater, and down quickly: wow it was steep! Up the stairs to Bromo’s crater, tons of steam pouring out. Bromo last erupted in 2002 with lava that killed 2 tourists, so that was in the back of the mind as I walked all the way around: wow! Little dicey at the very end (one step actually slipped into the crater), but so glad to have done it. I had a moment where I stopped at a point where there was no bank to either side, spread my arms out and realized that I was in Indonesia, standing on an active volcano! What a life I lead!
Back down, negotiated a horse for V, her first ever. During the drive back I was stunned by the steepness; how the hell do they ever farm that? I’ve never seen anything that steep inhabited, not even close.
Had to argue for a while about the money, but got it sorted out, got a little food then headed down, ate lunch, and took a bus back to Sura (AC again severely lacking). Back to Dani’s where we eventually had an expensive Mid East dinner (good tho) fell asleep watching 2012, slept in a wiasa that Dani’s school paid-for for me. Getting there was interesting because the movie took until 1230am so I was walking down kinda dark streets not really knowing where I was going. Fun! The place was nothing special, but it did have English cable TV which provided me with live American Football in the morning! It also allowed me to finally get a full night’s rest. When I woke up, I went back to Dani’s school for two classes. I was impressed with the school and the kid’s ability. Still not a whole lot of class room management by the look of it though (exact same as everywhere in Indonesia, just a culturally different thing). After that, there was a free lunch in school, then Dani konked while I played with pics and email for a few hours.
Later than we should have, we got moving and went to this fair grounds type place after stopping by the grocer and picking up some good beer, crunchy veggies (pea pods), and cheese: all things I had missed terribly! Hung out at the temple eating and drinking and lots of talking. Taxi’d back (damn I dropped a lot on taxis this weekend) to the mall, got a very belated B-day gift for Daya then booked it to the airport, I of course had plenty of time, but Imran still had me scared. Flight delayed after we boarded: the power cut out when I was 3 seats away from sitting down. We stayed on for a while then got off slept in the terminal for awhile and eventually took another plane; Merpati seems ok though the appearance of some places isn’t the best (hopefully they concentrate on maintaining the important parts!) After arriving in Makassar I slept in the airport a bit, and eventually caught up with the driver Daya had set up for me, after talking on phone with him (again my Indonesian is doing pretty well, though I need to continue to improve my vocab (which I haven’t done since returning, too tired to be motivated)). I couldn’t stay awake on drive back, but got in around 830 and was greeted by Mom’s package!
Wow what a weekend! It felt so good to be a traveler again, and catching up with everyone was really nice, though it made me wish I wasn’t quite so remote. But that won’t matter too much soon. I’m planning some more traveling which is keeping me very busy along with finishing up the semester here. Testing begins the 14th of Dec.
Ok that’s a lot, but as short as I could make it.
Here are some of the Facebook pics, no comments yet and I'm still in the process of adding them, but at least you can see some of the amazing sights:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just a quick update on life before I head for Surabaya for a Thanksgiving getaway

Life has been going along here, sometimes I’m really excited other times I’m homesick (frankly, a new sensation for me), but in general I’ve been figuring things out. I’ve been trying to make more friends with people here mostly for my own sanity. One ‘out-of-the-blue’ connection that showed up on my door step was a teacher at a school in a town about 20km from here. He had heard from his brother (a teacher in Rappang (are all teachers in ‘teacher families’ here?!)) that there was a bule teaching at the Pesantren, and he stopped by to talk. I have enjoyed speaking with him because his English is good enough that I can speak freely and he understands and it’s been nice to make a connection outside of the pesantren for a change, though even he comes wanting something. Beside the usual want of practicing English, he really wants me to come to his school to motivate his students. This is not a surprising or new request, but unfortunately it’s one I can’t fulfill as the Indo government is very particular in that I may only be at one school. We may be able to work something out, but I won’t be going to his school once a week like he wants. Nonetheless, it’s nice to make a friend or at least acquaintance outside of the pesantren.
Also on the social note, I’ve been trying to hang-out with Daya, Yusran, and Easter more lately. They’re all pretty close to me in age and very friendly. The one thing is the gender difference with Daya and I makes some things difficult. Speaking of annoyances/difficulties, I’ve been feeling kind of trapped lately because I really can’t relax outside of my room. The second I step out that door I’m on display, and while all the attention is fun at times it tends to get annoying; it really saps the enjoyment out of a jog when you can’t disappear into your own world. A great example of that was last night. I went with several of the teachers to visit some of our students at an English camp (schools from all over come and literally camp for 3 days while they talk with each other and have various competitions; only our best students went and were taken by Yusran; the students really appreciated us coming and it was cool to see; I also spoke with the organizers of the camp which was interesting). On our way back from the camp we stopped in someone’s home that was associated with the pesantren, I don’t know exactly how. And of course as soon as we came in we were presented with food and drink that we’re obliged to sample. This obligation is particularly strong on the bule. Every 10 seconds I had someone telling me to makan or minum, and while I was happy to oblige by sampling things, I didn’t particularly want to drink the entire glass of painfully-sweet orange stuff they set in front of me, but I ended up being told we couldn’t leave until I did. Now I know it’s kind of a stupid thing to complain about, as they were just being polite and I should return the favor, but I thought sipping from the glass was enough. More than that though it’s meant as an example of how I always am on display and that REALLY wears on a voluntary-extrovert/natural-introvert like me. Certainly not the end of the world, just a minor annoyance that continues to pop up.
One solution to this lack of privacy is the travel I’ve been planning. I have an extensive break for the holidays and have been spending much time planning a potential trip to Kalimantan (Borneo) and or Sumatra and or Yogyakarta. I’m looking forward to all of that.
All the Makassar pictures are on facebook now too.
I’m guessing the next post will be about Thanksgiving and Surabaya. Sampai lalu…

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A weekend in Makassar

Wow do I feel about 100x better after that weekend, or what?! Well, minus the brutal sunburn on my back. I headed down to Makassar Thursday night via a public car (kind of like a bus/SUV-taxi) and an uneventful ride; I was able to (uncomfortably) sleep some, and we arrived to the city sometime around midnight. First, we got a tour of the city as the driver took us to some woman’s house and handed her a bunch of money (weird?, ya), and then took us with him as he dropped off probably over 1000 eggs; which reminds me, we were probably an hour into the drive before I realized there was a live chicken in the car behind me!
Eventually though the driver took me to the address Jimmy had given me. Luckily I made him wait with me, because as it turns out, Jimmy didn’t have the correct address (his school apparently told him a different one, right road, but nearly a kilometer south). I eventually got to where I was almost sure was the correct place and had the driver drop me off. I then had to wait for a few minutes until Jimmy came down. While I was waiting I was trying to look conspicuous so Jimmy could see me, but inconspicuous so the becok drivers would leave me alone! Did I mention this was 130am?
The next day we got a late start (I hadn’t slept past 8am in a long time!), but eventually walked and bought my airline ticket to Surabaya for Thanksgiving (not quite the schedule I wanted, but cheaper!) and got to see some of the city. After that we met up with one of Jimmy’s friends (Thin Thin, a Chinese Indonesian that met Jimmy because she knew a previous ETA) for lunch, and she came with us to Fort Rotterdam. The fort is about the only touristy sight in the city and was unlike what I expected. It was so quiet when we got there; I don’t think there were any other tourists, and there was not all that much to see, though the museum was somewhat interesting (though mati lampu, was a bit of a downer). After that Jimmy and I went to see a group of college age guys Jimmy had met the night before. We ended up hanging out with them for a while and even went out to an island for some snorkeling and diving (diving was the way Jimmy met them, through Thin Thin). The trip out was interesting as we didn’t leave until it was a bit late and started to rain, and Jimmy and I weren’t even sure we were going to be able to go! When we got out there it was raining pretty good and I didn’t even have a mask and snorkel so it looked like I was going to have to sit in the wet, on a boat for like an hour, but I ended up borrowing a mask for a while and saw some really cool stuff, and then we went back to an island and hung out for a bit before racing back to Makassar (only about 10mins away). Hanging out with those guys was a lot of fun as it made me feel like one of the guys again (versus an old man teacher), telling stories, making jokes, etc. Hanging out with them really could have been in the US, minus it was mostly in bahasa Indo and we were sitting on a beautiful tropical island.
The next day I went to Jenny’s place. She lives in a completely different situation than Jimmy (see a note about that below), and unlike any I have seen in Indo. The neighborhood would be affluent even in the US and her school as very nice (founded by the vice president of Indo). That was a nice, tranquil change and it was really nice to have pretty deep conversations.
The other main highlight from the trip (beyond returning to civilization!) was another snorkeling trip. We actually went to the same island as before, but this trip was actually planned out and much more enjoyable. The island was called Samalona and in the daylight was gorgeous. I spent about an hour snorkeling (completely lost track of time, hence the sunburn) and saw some pretty cool fish, coral, and plants while the others were diving. I’ll try to get some pictures up soon of the island, as it was beautiful.
Other than that, I spent some time helping Jimmy get settled in (he’s having a bit of a difficult time getting settled after being up-rooted from rural Kalimantan), and walking around Makassar just soaking up a big city for a change. And it certainly was a change. I’m really amazed at how different all the ETA’s situations are. We’re all in the same program teaching high school students English, but that is where the similarities end. The best example is Jimmy and I. On paper he and I are really similar: bio grads from liberal arts colleges, born in the west with connections to Oregon, who both visited Brazil, have parents connected with forestry, and really enjoy doing outdoor activities. But our placements are opposites: big city vs. very rural, home stay vs. completely on his own, smallish Islamic boarding school vs. huge vocational high school, and the list goes on, but the point is that being an ETA in Indonesia is completely subjective to where you are placed, making it almost ridiculous that we all applied for the ‘same thing’.
I returned late Saturday night with Daya in another hired car (which also gave us a lengthy tour of the city picking people up) after getting some sate with Jimmy and one of his friends. Which reminds me, the stomach is feeling much better after I received my medicine on Thursday. Now I just have to take a week’s worth of flagyl and then a week’s worth of gabbryl.
All in all things are looking much better now!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A jumble of thoughts and updates

· I’ve officially been diagnosed with a parasite. I’m waiting on some drugs to be shipped to me from Jakarta. I actually think this could be the best thing, because it means once I get this little guy out of me I can go back to eating whatever I want; with maag (local speak for gastritis) I was going to need to be eating bland foods which is torture for me! I’m feeling so much better now knowing what has been wrong with me health wise. I feel like I can continue to invest in this experience, I was having to remove myself some, just in case I was forced to leave (a sort of defense mechanism on my part). Now though, I think things are sorted out, and I’m ready to return to what I wanted to do, becoming part of the community, being dedicated to teaching and still managing to travel!
· I had class Saturday with Grade 11-Social, which is usually my least favorite class (biggest and least motivated), and that day I was solo as Daya wasn’t able to get back from Makassar in time. The recipe was for a horrible class, but it turned out to be a really good session. I explained to the kids that as soon as we finished with them presenting their oral invitations, we could leave, and then once I told them that I wanted to leave (making it ok for them to want to leave), the peer pressure to volunteer and get done was great. I felt like the class was really working together and with me. I obliged by relaxing the ‘all invitations must be different’ requirement and not making them do anything else (i.e. reviewing). The result was some surprisingly good work by the more motivated students, and the ones who don’t give a ___, finishing the job and still practicing English, even if they didn’t know what they were saying!
· My bahasa is doing remarkably well now. My biggest deficit is still hearing and understanding, but as I continue to remind myself, all I care about is communicating and I am able to communicate my thoughts, and if the other person speaks slowly and simply and/or writes some things down, I can understand quite well. It also helps to have Easter, Imran, Yusran, or Daya around to translate, but it’s nice to be able to strike out on my own and actually understand. In fact, things are going so well that I may begin to study some Bugis so I can understand more here.
· Saw an almost-motorcycle crash on the way back this afternoon, actually we were almost part of it. We were going past a woman and all of a sudden she just kinda lost it and nearly dumped the bike, but she did a good job to save it. There for a minute I thought my leg was gonna get hit, as we were right next to her. Got the ole heart rate up!
· Going to Easter’s village (about a 3/4 hour ride away) was fun. His family enjoyed seeing me and I still love just driving out seeing the countryside. I didn’t even realize it, but we ended up on the ocean so we also stopped by the beach just to see it. It was a classic example of trash just ruining beautiful Indonesia. It’s really too bad they have such a problem with garbage (especially plastic) building up. It seems everywhere you go you see trash, and the culture just seems to be that throwing your trash on the ground or out the window is perfectly ok. It’s sad because it ruins a lot of very scenic sights.
· (Aunt) Alison asked some good questions about the school and the students, and I thought I would share the answers: Almost all of the students are from within a 1 hour motorcycle ride, but there are some from other islands. In fact a great number of the teachers are alumni of the pesantren and there are always other alumni coming around; it gives a real sense of family here. From Monday morning until Saturday afternoon, it's mandatory that the students live in the pesantren, but on the weekend those that live close enough usually go home (though not all). As for tuition, the school is completely subsidized by the government (The national gov't covers everyone through Jr. Hi (9th grade), and in our case the local government here has decided to cover through Sr. Hi (12th grade)). The pesantren also gets some support from the community, but I'm not exactly sure how that works. I know Imran is a pretty famous guys around here with some pull (he apparently speaks at mosques around the area, and everyone know his grandfather who founded the pesantren and was involved with trying to shift the national government towards Islamic law a few decades ago; that may sound negative to some, but compared to the dictator that was in place at the time, Islamic law would have been a HUGE improvement.). In the end, all the students have to pay for is the cost of living. Free time...what free time? The students wake up at 5am for prayer, then have some time because class starts at 730 and continues until about 1230ish. Then there is nothing in the heat of the day until 4 when another class is scheduled, but not all students have, and some who do have PE. After that class there is prayer which often lasts with a class until 730. Then often there is a class or meeting at 8 which takes them up to bed time. And somewhere in there they are supposed to do a little homework, which explains why most teachers don't explain HW (it doesn't get done). And finally for outcomes when I asked Imran he said anything: doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers, Islamic clergy, etc. What I’ve actually observed is a lot of teachers and some farmers, but my sampling is certainly skewed as I only see those who return here. I think the school is improving however, and with that the quality of outcomes for the students.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Life updates from here:

· I’ve still been battling some digestive health issues, but I think some sort of resolution is within site. I’m still waiting to hear from the Embassy doctor (as AMINEF takes her advice on what to do), and that still has the potential to pull me to Jakarta, but I’m going to fight that, assuming my symptoms continue to dissipate. My current thought, strongly pitched by the numerous Indonesians around me (who have now become intimately familiar with my digestive system, see below for an example story), is that I have what they call 'maag' which is I guess translates to gastritis, but seems to have a little more ‘voodoo’ worked into it, to me. But that ‘voodoo’ also includes stress which is certainly realistic and as I think about it a probable contributor to my latest bout as it was stressful figuring out the bus situation and also limited my sleep. Basically, I have irritated my digestive system (several times over). I 'cured' it leaving Bandung, but then really aggravated it eating some fish about 3 weeks ago, and now am more sensitive to bugs and things. My idea is get it back under control with some meds, if need be, and then be much more careful what I eat (not too spicy, only the freshest, fewer veggies, etc). Apparently the treatment for maag is eating lots; that doesn't seem quite right, though eating plenty would be good, I wouldn't think you could/should be eating everything!
· Awkward/representative-digestive-health-as-a-public-topic-story: Sitting in a laboratory office as complete strangers look through my stool results and discuss this bule’s digestive system and diarrhea. Let’s just say a bit different from the closed, U.S. attitude towards these things. Little weird for me, but not for Indonesians where everyone is family and everyone has a piece of advice (not in a negative way, just literally, EVERYONE has a piece of advice). Once you get over the awkward part (very difficult for a private, only-child like myself, but I’m getting there), it’s actually very comforting; everyone is family
· On travel news, it looks to be all but sure that I will be going to Surabaya for Thanksgiving, followed by a trip to the far Eastern part of Java for a hike to a volcanic lake (on the Ijen Plateau), and then back to Sura to fly home.
· Possibly the best class yet yesterday with the 10th grade boys; there could have been more English speaking by Daya and I, but they had fun, learned some important topics (giving instructions, basic directions, and some cooking for IndoMie), practiced speaking and writing, and all did pretty well. Can’t ask for much more here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A good weekend nonetheless

So I was intending to have this posting be all these great stories about hikes and exploring I had done in Tana Toraja this past weekend, but yet again Indonesia reminded me that plans are only here to trick you. I did get to Toraja, and I did have a good time and saw some very stunning scenery, but hiking was pretty much out of the question, and I spent more time in the hotel room than anywhere else. I ended up getting another (or maybe a continuance of the previous?) bout of food poisoning that I started to feel on the bus ride over Thursday night/ Friday morning. The bus plan was a bit of an adventure, but I eventually caught up with Jimmy at about 2am in Rappang so that we were on the same bus. Next was a very winding 4.5hr bus ride to Ranetapo where we were met by Ricky and Kelly from Majene who had decided to come at the last minute and hired a car to drive them over.
Eventually we got checked into a cool place that was actually a couple of cottages designed like the traditional house of Toraja: tongkonan. I’ll just refer you to Wikipedia or Lonely Planet for more info on the Torajan tradition regarding funerals, but suffice to say that it’s very interesting if slightly audacious for Westerners who are used to fairly private, reserved funerals. Some highlights though: the rock carvings, the impressive tongkonan houses, and the love of buffalo (up to $10,000 for a very fine white buffalo, yes American dollars) and sacrificing of those beloved buffalo. We saw all of those things plus some very impressive scenery that afternoon as we used to the car to drive us up into the mountains. We had intended to do some hiking, but we were all pretty out of it. On the way down we actually ran into a funeral procession that was going down the only road down the mountain, eventually we were strongly encouraged by the members of the procession to get out and watch (they apparently enjoy sharing the funeral). That was pretty interesting, though by that point I was feeling pretty sick (so I was stuck on a mountain with one long, winding, bumpy road off; I thought that was about as bad as it could get, I was later proved to be wrong), and thus when we got back I just had to lay down near the bathroom for a while. Unfortunately things only got worse, and I ended up taking some medicine and buying a bus ticket back to Rappang, but thought better of it and instead bought myself a separate room and spent the night (good choice, as I looked near death all night).
Friday night Alexa and Sarah got in from Gorantalo, and then to everyone’s surprise Anna and Erica showed up Saturday morning from Manado. So when you throw in Ab, who is positioned in Rantepao, there were 9 of us there, all of the SulSel ETAs (minus Jenny). Just catching up with everyone was probably the highlight of the trip for me. I hadn’t seen any other bules since orientation (a month), and it was so nice just to hang out with people and hear about everyone’s situations. It’s really amazing how different all of our settings are. Between the housing/eating/commute, setting (city, remote, etc as well as demographics), class sizes, teaching responsibilities, teacher interactions, and student abilities, we’re all in drastically different places. I’m pretty happy with my situation now, the down sides seem to be that I’m very remote and my students are not as advanced as some, but in just about every other field I’m happy relative to everyone else’s stories. (read below for a few thoughts I wrote a while back).
Just to wrap it up, Saturday we got to see Ab’s school (wow, nice!), and do some hiking nearby, including to an area that apparently was where Torajan’s opposed the Dutch at some point (according to Ab’s students, whose English was very good). That was about it for my sightseeing unfortunately however, as the stomach proved to be way too iffy (I won’t gross you out more than to say there were some very gross moments, and the lack of running water for Sunday morning was definitely not a good thing).
All right I’ll call that good, though I could keep going.
Here’s a link to some of the pics from the weekend:

And my random, positive thoughts from earlier; these were sort of a reaction to the depressed mood I had been in following the first round of food poisoning (speaking of which, yes I’m tending to get myself checked out by a doctor).
I’m living in SUCH an amazing situation, and an experience that is simply one of a kind. This is a place and a setting that is out of this world! I find myself sometimes humming “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and that’s pretty ironic, because this place is certainly not Kansas! And while there are certainly some challenges, I’m really pretty damn happy (these last couple days have had lots of good things happen), and this is something that I truly will never forget, and no one else will ever experience. Because of that, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity, but also enthralled.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A day at the beach and some musings

The activity I finally settled on for this weekend (after getting invited to no less than 5 different things) was heading to the beach with Daya and her family and I am so glad I went. It was nice to get away from the Pesantren for an entire day and refresh. Getting to and from was a bit difficult as the road to Wakka is ridiculously bad (the car bottomed out at least 10 times), but it was a fairly enjoyable journey there as Daya’s brother, and her uncle (or was it grandfather?) all speak English and I was practicing my Indo. And of course the scenery is beautiful to me. While we were there I was a huge celebrity/novelty. So many people wanted to take pictures with me, and everyone was staring at me. While that’s fun for a while it gets to be a bit of drag and really tiring because everyone wants to see and talk to you and I want to be nice to everyone, but I’m not the most extroverted person. It’s also impossible to go off and wander (like I am apt to do) as I end up getting followed/mobbed/gawked at. We didn’t do a whole lot while there, swam, or walked really as it was up to my chest at the deepest, after lunch, but mostly just chilled out. The water was warm and pretty dirty, but as hot as the weather was it was refreshing. Oh yeah I also had to wear a T-shirt while swimming, well I didn’t have too, but Daya had asked me to. Apparently her family is more conservative in that regard (which could explain why I have never, and probably never will, seen 2 inches above her ankles or wrists). Perhaps the highlight however was the ikan bakar (grilled fish). Wow was it good! Fish of every kind all grilled up over a fire and as fresh could be. Daya’s Aunts and mom (about 15 of her family ended up there) made some sauces, but the fish was perfect just plain: moist, flavorful, clean and perfect! The ride back over, or maybe more accurately through the many many potholes was long and hot, but a really good day; with plenty of photos on Facebook. Now two of my favorite experiences (and probably not coincidently my best 2 meals) have come with, or a result of, Daya.

Also wanted to add one observation I’ve made here lately:
Because Indonesians avoid confrontation and are concerned with what people think (because they are so communalistic, not because they’re vain!) I feel I always need to be polite and a bit on edge. Part of that is due to my lack of comprehension since most people here speak at least a mix of Bugis and Indo if not all Bugi which leads to some awkward silences where we don’t even know what to talk about. I should clarify here because Indonesians LOVE asking questions about people; it’s almost a form of small talk. What I’m trying to get at is that it’s a little more difficult to really get to know people because what I would consider somewhat personal questions you would ask someone you know pretty well, is actually small talk here. Meaning breaking the ice is kind of difficult, or more exactly, that I have not figured out how to do it yet. But also, I’m an outsider/celebrity so they’re not going to open up to me like they may with close friends and family. This is something that is difficult to get around because I am so different from the people I am interacting with (just about anything you can think of). All of this proves kind of frustrating at times, and is more of an issue than any where I’ve ever been. But that may not be surprising as I have never been in an Eastern area. or Islamic. or Tribal. or significantly remote. Yeah, this is a new setting. But then again, I guess this is what I signed up for, and it’s still pretty early.

As an add-on to my room being inundated with various creatures, this from the 22nd: as I’m writing this my room is being filled (I wish that was an exaggeration) with bugs: crickets, flying ants, beetles, moths, a grasshopper, little flies, and who knows what else! The power was off so the only light for a long ways was my room (thanks to the generator). Learned my lesson not to have my light on unless I need it, and definitely not the outside light!
And another note on the state of my room, the wiring is…interesting. Let me give some examples: by wiring I mean wires running along the top of my ceiling, my ac is plugged into a switch-operated-outlet that works regardless of if the switch is on or off, I have a light over my back-porch that only turns on when a certain light (on the same switch) is on, and my favorite, the light in my living room area does pretty much whatever it wants: it sometimes turns on when the power returns even though the switch is off, and most of the time I have to switch it off in just the right way for it to actually turn off, most of the time it actually turns on though.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back with the living (and eating)

Now that I’m back with the living after a particularly nasty bout with a stomach virus, I figured it was time for a few highlights, though there hasn’t been a whole lot going on.
· The last 3 days pretty much disappeared because of my stomach bug, but I was well taken care of. All of the students missed me and were asking about me, and Imran, his family, Daya, and Yusran all checked on me too. It was a hellish three days, but it seems to have cleared.
· Check the facebook album for pictures of my first hair cut here!
· I got my first package the other day (thanks Alison!). It takes about 10 days, and they open it up and search it, but it’s always nice to get something from home (though with the price tag, I’m not sure it’s worth it).
· I made it to the traditional market in Rampang the other day. While I walked around the market I got a bunch of open mouth stares; people were very surprised to see me. It was a good time, and I stopped and talked with a few people, including a woman who wanted my cell number so that I could talk to her daughter who she wanted me to marry! You can buy just about anything there, which is a good thing considering there are no supermarkets within 30mins!
· And this from last Friday night, which will forever be known as “the night my room was inundated by things I didn’t want there”! First I was reading and ready for an early sleep except that I had to keep chasing a damn mosquito around that I never caught, mostly because a student came over and basically let himself in to speak English, but I ended up helping him with math for over an hour, when thankfully the lights went out (I wanted to sleep!). He was still ready to stay longer, but I convinced him I was ready for bed. That wasn’t too bad, but then I hopped into bed, and was laying there for a couple minutes before I heard some sort of rustling seemingly coming from my bags beside my bed. That got me out of bed in a hurry, and I ended up finding a frog and a snake in the corner of my room. Now this isn’t the first frog I’ve had, so that wasn’t too bad, and I was able to keep him in the corner until I had a chance to usher him under the door (which I literally JUST stuffed a bunch of paper and cardboard under as a temporary stop until I figure something out). The snake was more of a challenge as he B-lined behind my fridge, meaning I had to use my broom to chase him back towards the door. The problem became when he disappeared! It turns out he had actually gone into the back of my refrigerator (with all the cables), but it took me a few minutes to pull things out and finally find him, after which it was pretty easy to get him under the door. Whew! So much for an early relaxing night! And that doesn’t count the cricket that’s in my bathroom (not a big deal except that a week ago I had a cricket land on my forehead as I was laying in bed). An add-on from the next day: the wind was blowing in my face…through my wall.

That’s about it from here. The next posting will probably be about my Halloween trip to Torajah, or maybe a hike from this weekend.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Becoming at home

Here’s an update to life in the Pesantren and surrounds:
I was in the middle of teaching my last class for the week on Thursday, when Daya told me there was some sort of meeting to go to. I was pretty confused about what was going on, but I just hopped in the SUV with Imran, Daya, Kasmawati, 2 other teachers and Imran’s three boys. The drive over was interesting in itself; some of the scenery was pretty nice, but it was also interesting to watch Imran drive; that’s some extensive use of the horn! Every time we might be passing someone he would honk, repeatedly. But as narrow as the road is, that’s about the only way to do it. Anyways, we got to where we were going and it turned out to be a rice processing factory owned by an alumnus of the pesantren. While Imran, his wife and the other two teachers spoke with the guy, Daya showed me around the factory. It was pretty interesting to see how the whole process works; they first dry the rice on a large ceramic slab that is angled so that if, and when, it rains, it flows away. They then rake the rice into rows and shovel it into bags which are carried to the actual factory; all of this is done by hand. After that, the rice is processed by a machine that removes the hull and results in berum (what uncooked nasi is called; if it’s still in the field it’s padi). The hull is put in a bag for feed and the rest blown outside into a big pile. As much rice as I have been and will continue to eat it was interesting to see how it’s processed. Also, I had a lot of fun walking around with Daya. She is a very funny woman and very nice; I’m really lucky that I get along with her so well because it will make my 8months much better!
While we were wandering, she mentioned that she had family in this village, so I didn’t think much of it as we drove to a local mosque, I had already heard the call to prayer after all. But as it turns out, the whole reason we went, besides to show me some new things, was so that she could have me over for a meal at a family member’s house. And it was good! Undoubtedly the best duck I have ever eaten and a soup with some cabbage, noodles (not the normal ramen noodles) and some sort of potato type thing (but not a potato). Both were so welled flavored! There was also some heart in with chopped up duck, so I made sure I ate a couple of those! It was apparently made special for me so I ate plenty! It was a pretty mundane evening I guess, but I really enjoyed it.
While I didn’t really do much of anything the next morning (ate some breakfast, sent some emails, read some sports and other news, and went back to bed until 1130ish!), I spent the afternoon hanging out with the students. First, I was just talking with some of the Jr. Hi boys; they were very concerned that I was standing out in the sun (Panas, sir! Go here [pointing to the shade]!), but I insisted that I was ok. After a while we walked around the campus and I ended up playing some chess (split 1 and 1). After that last game, I was speaking with a graduate of the pesantren who is studying in Makassar. That was interesting, but I unfortunately, couldn’t help him as much as he wanted (he needs to study for the TOFEL, but I don’t have any books or cassettes he could use). We next ended up playing some soccer, where I was exposed as a true Bule! I was definitely not good, but I did ok, and all of the students got a great charge out of it! Then I played some goalie and realized that I’m not very good at that! Anyways, it was fun, I got some exercise in, and I think the students appreciated it. I’m still surprised at how quickly I’ve become at home here, and I really enjoy working/playing with the students. Later in the evening Rahman, a well spoken 10th grade boy, and some of his friends came over before prayer and just hung out to practice their English and play around. After dinner he came back again and we talked until Yusran came and I went back to host a program for the 9th graders (14 girls and 4 boys); that didn’t last very long because the lights went out, but they seemed to enjoy it (as always).
Warning here is a soapbox moment, feel free to skip over!
Being here and Brazil has really made me realize how little we get to just chill with people in the US, and talk about life and how people are doing, what they think, etc. Maybe this isn’t everyone all the time, but at least for me, and especially while I was toiling away at UR, everyone was always wanting to do something, play video games, watch TV, study, drink (heavily, not just socially), whatever; there was always some sort of distraction going on. Doing all of that is great, but you really miss out on some things, and getting to know your friends. I’m realizing more and more how ‘over-planned’ and individualistic I have been (and the US culture to a large extent is), not that that is always a bad thing (you get a LOT of great things done!), but there definitely needs to be a balance struck; I guess it’s too bad that I had to graduate, and fly all over the world to realize that, but such is life.
Ok that was my soapbox/deep moment, hope it wasn’t too painful for those who chose to read it (I gave you warning it was coming!).
Then last night I went to ParePare with Yusran. That was fun, even if we didn’t do a whole lot; it was just nice to get away from the pesantren and to see ParePare, the nearest place that can be considered a city. I met some of Yusran’s family there (who insisted on feeding me a bunch of sweets; his uncle was a real character who wanted to swap shoes with me and then wanted my sunglasses(!), funny guy), saw a local market with clothes and food, and then a had ‘mie titi’ which was chicken (and all of the chicken apparently as I know I ate some liver and I’m pretty sure a lung or two) and dry noodles, and by the taste of it, a fair amount of MSG (it was good regardless!). Then after that we headed back because Yusran had a wedding to get to. The high light of the trip for me was probably just the ride there; this a very picturesque area and the best way to get around is on the back of a scooter, and I’ve even gotten to the point that I don’t have a death grip on the scooter the whole time! The back was interesting because the power was off so it was PITCH BLACK, that and all the moths hitting us (I eventually just hid behind Yusran; not easy considering I’m probably at least 4 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier).
Anyways it’s been a pretty good last couple days, complimented with lots of reading and just lounging around I didn’t mention.
As things are starting to become more mundane and every day, the pace of the blogs will probably slow down now.

Oh I almost forgot, I have a video of us driving to ParePare, it seemed the best way to show the scenery. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More from the pesantren

The teaching is just starting, and things are going decently, but hopefully after a while Daya and I can get more of a balance as time goes on. Teaching is especially difficult since I don't know their language (either actually, Indonesian or their traditional language). But whenever I get frustrated with them not getting it, I think about me in Spanish in high school! The other problem is the wide range of different skill levels. Some students are nearly conversationally fluent while some others seem to know very little, and they're sitting in the same class; makes lesson planning really difficult. I also meet with some of the students, especially the younger ones I don't teach, just to introduce them to a 'bule' and English speaking. Those meetings are all really easy as I am a complete and total rock star here! It’s kinda corny, but it all leaves me with a good feeling; I really do think, and can tell, that I am helping these kids. With English they’re going to be able to go much further with their lives, that is the simple case in SE Asia right now. So if I can help some of these students go to university and maybe beyond, that’s an amazing thing; it’s a really great feeling! I’ve become attached and vested in the success of my students, and to be honest, I didn’t think I would, at least not so soon, if at all.
Part of the reason I like it here is that everywhere I go people either smile (and sometimes laugh and point) or just stare, dumfounded. Sometimes I feel like I’m being led around like the giant white elephant (and I am not small here, taller than most, and certainly not skinnier than most), but in general, I enjoy it. It’s also becoming easier as I progress with the language, though that is somewhat dampened because many, if not most, of the people here speak their traditional language (Bugis) with each other, but now at least I can hear the difference.
It’s not all golden here though. Probably the most annoying thing is that the power won’t stay on. Just today I got a schedule of when it will be off; hey, at least I know now! Looking at the schedule, the power will be out for at least 6 hours during the day, every day, for the next week. Apparently there is a pretty good chance this will continue for quite some time (February maybe); I guess I’ll have to get used to it. I actually can deal with it pretty easily. The real problem is that with the power so too goes the water, and as hot and humid as it is here that is a bit of an issue, but even more, no power means no AC or even a fan, and that gets to be really bad.
The other annoyance is how hard it is to get away from here; the closest town isn’t really within walking distance (close, but with this heat…). I think it will get a bit better though once I get settled, because after that I will start doing some weekend travelling around Indo.
Until then though, I’m going to try to do as much exploring (with Imran or Yusran) around here as possible. The first example of this was this Sunday. I went fishing with Imran, Yusran, a student (Anto), and another teacher (Jeffery, or as they say here: Jufry). Let’s just say that ‘fishing’ here is not the most dynamic! Mostly it was standing around waiting for a fish to get so bored it bit a hook. Oh that, and getting sunburned! So while the fishing left a bit to be desired, the sights were fantastic! I would have liked to take more pictures, but getting there consisted of me hanging on for dear life to the back of a scooter/motorcycle as we bounced along a decrepit road. Even with that, I really enjoyed the ride, between all the stares and just getting out of the pesantren it was good. The best part was after we went across the rickety old wooden suspension bridge (I had to walk behind rather than ride). After the bridge, we were out in the middle of rice fields with palm trees all around. At one point it really looked like that stereotypical scene you see in all of the Vietnam movies! Pictures will be up eventually, so be sure to check those out.
I think that’s about it for highlights so I guess I’ll call that good for now.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More updates

Thanks to everyone for all the well wishes and yes everything is going fine (and safely) here!
The following is a jumble of updates and answers to questions I received, organized in no order whatsoever:
· There are, or will be very soon, more pictures on Facebook in the album I posted last time.
· As an only child
· All the ETAs are safe and sound now, but there will be some shuffling around to different locations. For me, the good news is that I now have two friends in Makassar!
· I’m getting more involved with the teaching already, and am actually having to keep myself from taking over completely; that’s not my job and I’m not qualified to do so, but being the control freak I am…but then again, you can’t really plan things here!
· Today for lunch Yusran, my counterpart (i.e. the guy babysitting me!) took me out to get some lunch after class (still working on getting that Saturday class moved). While the food was pretty good (descriptions and pictures on Facebook in a new album: ) the highlight for me was having a ‘whoa! I’m riding through the middle of the Indonesian countryside on a scooter’ moment! I tend to just take things as they come, but this means I miss some of the impact of what I’m doing, moments like that one bring everything into perspective and are the reason I love traveling!
· As we drove back to the Pesantren we stopped and I picked up a sarong (yes there is a picture of that too); wearing one of these is the only way to go in this heat and humidity!
· Last night was the first rain storm: wow it really comes down! But it doesn’t stop after 20mins like in VA. And lots of thunder and lightning. The rainy season isn’t supposed to be starting yet, but it looks like it may be : ( Also, the power went out with the rain, so now too little water and too much water have to same effect!
· Imran and family get most of their food from a local market that is held 3 days a week and since I’m doing pretty much a home stay that is where I get my food. The market was yesterday so for dinner we has some sort of small bird, not sure what it was, but it was good! About the right size for a pigeon or something similar. Also had a traditional banana pudding from Linda (Imran’s maid), egg, coconut, sugar, and banana (telur, kelapa, gula, dan pisang) steamed in a banana leaf. Really tasty, and not too heavy, plenty sweet
· I found out that the students have ~19 subjects and half of their time is spent on religious studies, half on general subjects.
· I’ve been having some pretty good discussions with Imran. He showed me some funny pictures critiquing ultra-conservative Islam; I think it’s great that he is willing and able to make such comments (the pictures were on his Facebook page!), he is a very interesting guy and seems very determined 1st to make sure I am comfortable, and 2nd to keep and portray his community as moderate and modern (for Indo standards)).
· Another cool thing was one evening when I was returning to my room, there were a few boys sitting outside my door step. The next thing I knew, I was holding court with maybe sixteen 11-13 year old boys. That went on for maybe 45mins: them asking me questions and me answering in a mix (campur) of Indo and English, I want to get them to be learning English while I do things like that, so I’ve still got to figure out a better way to accomplish that.
· I played my first bit of soccer with the students today. Even the jr hi students are better than me, but I actually did a little better than I expected
· The pesantren really has a sort of family feel as a large number of the teachers are alumni; some of the teachers also live in the pesantren (maybe 5?). Speaking of the teachers, they cover a wide range of ages though I get the feeling that within the last 5-6 years the pesantren has started to become younger as the original teachers retired (the school was founded in 1974 by Imran’s grandfather). Also adding to the strong family feel is that I’m over at Imran’s home so often and he has 4 really cute kids (a 4th grade boy, 2 younger boys, and the youngest a 14 months year old girl).

That’s about all I got for right now. I’m sure there will be more later as next week will be my first week of actual teaching, but before that tomorrow I may be going fishing.

Take care semua!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Settling in

First off, some of you might have heard about the earthquake in Sumatra and the tsunami in Samoa; don’t worry there were no effects here whatsoever. If Sumatra is about where Oregon is in the US, then I’m in Indiana (the point being I’m safe and sound, and earthquakes rarely if ever happen here).
With that out of the way here are some more excerpts from my running journal; edited for all eyes J

1 of the teachers here (Easter, a philosophy major) climbed a tree, and hacked off a bunch of young coconuts, and then split them open so we could eat and drink from them out in the middle of the field. Another teacher accompanied us (I forget his name, but he invited me to go to his village sometime because he has lots of chickens; maybe he thinks I like chicken because I am a bule (white, foreigner)?) and another older woman teacher joined us after a while. She doesn’t speak any English, but she seems very nice and later that night dubbed me a ‘monkey putih tinggi’ (a tall white monkey) because I was eating a banana! When I was awarded that title I was in the middle of spending about an hour hanging out in one of the girls’ dorms with Yusran: basically it was just me being fed lots of cookies and talking to and through Yusran. Still pretty interesting though.
Speaking of food, force feeding has been going on for a while now! I know I need to fatten up, but these people love to see me eat and try their food (which I have to do not to be rude)! I’m figuring it out though and just not eating as much at the meals with Imran (which makes me feel better about eating his food). Which reminds me, it looks like I’ll be doing kind of a home stay with Imran: eating my meals with him (actually breakfast is hand delivered to me every morn at 6:30), using his washing machine for clothes, etc. I feel a little bad, but I think things will get sorted out; I have a cooking stove outside if I decide I want to cook sometime.
It’s also hard to tell when I might be encroaching or asking too much because no one says no in this culture in general and then you add in that I’m a visitor and I get “yes’d” all the time. That makes asking questions REALLY difficult because the answer is always the same and usually provided before I’ve even started asking the question, but it doesn’t mean anything (i.e. it’s pointless to ask much of anything or plan ahead of time).

As for class, the students definitely have a lot to learn, but it’s hard to tell how much because they are so shy. There’s definitely a large difference in ability between individual students. Another little issue is that Daya, the teacher that I’m working with, is brand new and is deferring to me all the time, but I don’t know what the hell I’m doing so that makes it…interesting. We’ll see how it goes; I have some good ideas, but not 8 months worth! I’ve already offered to have the students come to me when they need help so I’m going to be staying pretty busy, but I’ve kind of surprised myself with how connected I’ve gotten so quickly. Already I care that these kids learn to speak and be able to use English!

On the topic of teaching, my schedule is:
Monday: 810-930-1050 Tues: 730-8:50; 1025-1145 Wed: 1025-1145; 4-5:20 Thurs: 4-5:20 and Sat 1025-1145. Though I’m intending to get that Saturday class moved, hopefully to Thursday morning.
I provide this because I got my first call from home this morning (thanks mom!), and the connection was good enough and apparently it isn’t too expensive ($0.16/minute and maybe even cheaper if you call a land line, though that’s less private since it would be Imran’s). I’d love to hear the occasional voice from home so if you’re interested… The best time would probably be the morning for me as that is a good time for most of you, and I wake up around 6:15 here anyway (call to prayer wakes me up at 5ish, but I fall aback asleep until the students and people start making too much noise).

I think I’ll wrap it up for now as the power just went out again (meaning I’ll have to post this later); this would be the 5th time it has gone out in the last 3 days, apparently when the water levels get low the power goes out pretty often, makes me actually look forward to the rainy season at least a little bit.
Also, here is a link to my latest Facebook photos, this one is just going to be of things around the pesantren and I’ll add more as I take them so check it occasionally.

I should also mention a couple things about the Pesantren:
· The school is co-ed, but the girls dorms are in the back while the boys are at the front.
· I’m not sure if it applies to all situations, but in my classes the 10th grade is separated by sex into two classes while the 11th grade is split into 2 by their tract: science or social.
· The school has a kindergarten for the day, and a 6 day a week, 24 hour/day boarding school for grades 7-12 (I only teach 10 and 11). Besides teaching the senior high students I think I’ll be meeting the jr. hi. students on a fairly regular basis in a more informal setting to do some low level teaching.
· There are uniforms, though they aren’t required for classes after the afternoon break apparently, and outside of their dorms, it seems the girls/woman always wear jilbabs
· There are classes pretty much all day, but not before 7:30am, not after 10pm, and not between 2-4pm (this allows for a prayer break, and is vital since it’s so hot at those times)
· Especially in the school, but I think in this area in general (and probably Indo as a whole) the Islamic belief is pretty main stream, and a long ways from conservative. I mention this because Imran has made such a point of it. He is a very interesting guy and someone with a fair amount of clout (he has been invited to the US several times, and at one point was in a meeting with Colin Powell!).

Ok that should answer most of the questions I’ve received, but let me know if I forgot any or if more come up.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This will be an amazing 8 months

And so begins the biggest and greatest (I hope) adventure of my life. A little melodramatic I know, but I don’t think it will prove to be a hyperbole.
I've included some snippets from the journal I've got going, so things might not be in context all the time.
I arrived here in Sidrap around noon on Sunday, and to be honest was borderline horrified. I think mostly due to the little sleep, the need for some food and water, and the REALLY sweaty and long trip up from Makassar, I was freaking out a fair amount. Remote is an accurate description and the pesantren’s condition is a HUGE change from the 4 star hotel I’ve been staying in the past month. For instance, I’m pretty sure at least one of the girl’s dormitories is a converted barn; which reminds me there are sheep and or goats wandering freely across the entire place; the cows are confined to a pasture and the chickens seem to be pretty much confined to my back yard!
My living situation, while probably more basic than just about anyone else’s, is significantly better than my surroundings. I have AC (I cannot express my joy for this), a water cooler, a refrigerator, a TV, and a second mattress; those are all things that I didn’t fully expect (and they’re also listed in their order of importance to me). In addition to that I have a western toilet and shower, but no heated water (not as big a deal considering the temperature here, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself) or sink. In reality it seems I might be a mix of home stay and on my own, as it looks like I'll be getting most of my meals from the headmaster, Irman (nice guy, studied Islamic law in Egypt, and after 9.11 has been to the US several times; seems to be pretty influential and important both in his community and to some extenet Indonesia), and his family. In addition, his home is the only place with Internet. He's been very open and helpful, but I feel a little bad depending on him for everything, and I don't know how much I should do myself or help out. I've offered to pay for some of my food, since I'll otherwise eat him out of house and home!
I kind of hate to ask for anything because it is so obvious how much they have done for me to be here, i.e. a lot of the stuff still has price tags or packaging on it. That being said, this is, I’m pretty sure, one of the most primitive placements (I talked to Jimmy today and it sounds like he may have me beat, as he doesn’t even have a shower, I think the two of us will have to stay in contact to help each other).
As for the teaching:
No doubt about it, this is going to be difficult, but also incredibly rewarding. Monday was the first day of school, but not really class. It was, as I understood, meant for the students to clean the campus after the long break. I thought everything would start at 7:30, and I was supposed to have breakfast with Ustas Irman at 7. Of course as with everything here in Indo, plans are only meant to trick you!
All this week I'll be just observing the teacher, Daya. I'm supposed to observe for the first 2 weeks, but I can't keep myself back that long!
My schedule looks to be pretty light (each one of the classes meets 2 times per week for 80mins each, meaning I will be in the classroom 11hours/week), and my only complaint was that they had me teaching Saturday morning, but I asked if I could change that to, hopefully, Thursday morning, if that is the case, I will have class only 4 days/week with Friday-Sunday free! That would be awesome!
Already the people here have been very nice and accommodating, especially my counterpart, Yusran and of course Irman. All of this will of course take some serious getting used to, but I think that I will enjoy it a great deal, but I'm already not sure how much traveling away from Sulawesi I will be doing. It's way too early to tell, but it takes such a long time to get to the airport that it's kind of a task. I don know I have the whole last week of November off so there will have to be a fairly major trip then!
Ok I'll cut this off here, and open it up to have people ask anything I left out. I won't be on the Internet a whole lot so be patient!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sidrap here I come

It just got very real in a hurry! I leave tomorrow morning for Sidrap (actually I have a one night stay in Makassar as well), and the last few days have been spent talking and planning with my counterpart. Yusran, is a 26 year old guy that comes from a family of teachers. He apparently taught himself English, and also attended the same Pesantren where he now teaches Economics. As with several things, I'm not exactly sure if I will be working with him or not. He's a very nice guy, but he 'yes's me a lot; meaning he says yes or gives me some answer even if he doesn't know or understand what I've asked. This is a very common thing in Indonesia culture, but it's very frustrating when I need to figure out a lot of things.
I do know that I will be assisting a female English professor; this was a bit of a surprise as I didn't know the school was co-ed, but apparently there are actually more female students than male. That being said there aren't that many students: for 6 grades (Jr and Sr. High schools) there are somewhere around 250 students, meaning that when I teach 10 and 11 grade I will have about 30-40 students in a class that meets 2x a week for 1hr45min each. This obviously doesn't add up to the 20 hours I'll be teaching/assisting; which is kind of confusing because initially there was talk about me having to work 6 days a week (there is school everyday, but Sunday); we've changed that though b/c I've signed a contract that says specifically 5 days. Yusran and I decided to wait and set my exact schedule when we return to Sidrap so that I/we can speak with the other teacher and perhaps the headmaster (who apparently went to university somewhere in the US).
I really cannot believe that this will be my last night to say goodbye to all of the other ETAs (though I will be travelling with some tomorrow). It's been a great 4 weeks, and I will definitely be missing my fellow 'bule's.
After talking to Yusran the Pesantren doesn't sound as remote as I was imagining (phew!), and I think I will have a little better Internet connection than I initially feared.

Sampai jumpa semua temanku!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Idul Fitri in Bandung

Selamat Idul Fitri semua! (happy Idul Fitri all) Today is the first day after Ramadan (i.e. the first day that Muslims are allowed to eat (or drink, or smoke, or ...) during the day. Last night the city was pretty electric with people celebrating: lots of fireworks, people driving around in the back of trucks banging on drums, etc.
Then today the city seemed pretty empty (most people spend this day with their families; think Christmas day I guess), but I didn't see that as much as a bunch of us went hiking outside of Bandung. We started off seeing some bunkers (basically just man-made tunnels into the mountain side); there were WWII Japanese bunkers as well as some Dutch bunkers. After we wandered through those, we covered the 5km to a waterfall. The waterfall itself was pretty nice, but all of the garbage really detracted from it. The wild monkeys (i.e. still afraid of people, not running towards us looking for food!) did add to it however. I took a bunch of pictures (couldn't catch the monkeys though), and when I get a chance, I'll put them in this ongoing album:

Let's see what else has been going on? Yesterday after getting in a nap after lunch (the night before we celebrated one guys birthday) a couple of us took an angkot (short hand for public transport, but not quite the buses you might be thinking; more minibuses with bench seats placed around the outside...interesting, but cheap) to go do some shopping. Easy enough right? Unfortunately we took the angkot going the wrong way and ended up taking an hour to cover what is basically a 20-30 min walk. Anyways we eventually got there. I ended up getting a pair of legit Abercrombie $40 shorts for $10, a $30 T-shirt for $3.50 and two pairs of Clairborne slacks for $5.50 each!
After that I met up with some people for dinner, but first I had a strawberry juice. I bring that up to highlight all the delicious juices I've been having here. The 2 odd ones (at least to the US) are avocado (plenty of added sugar makes it more like a milkshake) and a green bean juice (again plenty of sugar). Both of them are amazing! While on the topic of fruit, I've added to my list of foods while here: durien (smells absolutely disgusting, rotten garbage and eggs, but I like the taste), snakefruit (surprising texture, and very unique flavor, but pretty good) and mangostein (again surprising texture, but very good flavor)
While on the topic of food, last night I ate at a really good duck restaurant, but the more exciting experience was when we ate at a place called Blind. As you might be able to guess, the calling card for this restaurant was that you ate in the dark. When I heard this I assumed it was just a little dark; oh, no! Pitch black, get led to you table and have to shovel the food into your mouth (or at least I did!) dark. It was interesting, and I'm glad I went, but I don't think I'll be going back any time soon!
Ok that oughta be enough for now. Hopefully I'll get another posting in before I leave for Sidrap (next Saturday morning).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More from Bandung

I haven't been very good with emailing or skyping people so I thought I would try to make up for it with more blogs. Unfortunately you probably shouldn't get used to it as I doubt that I will be able to post all that often from Sidrap.

Our time in Bandung is flying by, and in a week and a half I will be in Sidrap. I'm actually pretty excited to finally get to my location. The orientation has been helpful, and I've met some very nice and interesting people, but I signed up to get out into Indonesia!

Speaking of orientation, it has started to drag some now. We've been putting in 7-8 hour days learning language and practicing teaching, and to be blunt, a lot of that time has been a waste. Everything we've done has been a good idea or somewhat helpful, but a lot of the activities go on for too long. For the teaching, all of our sites are so different, and we know so little about them, that it is hard to know what to get out of each lesson or how applicable it will be. My main gripe on the language is that we haven't been pushing it hard enough. I've learned quite a lot of the language and am already able to get by pretty well, but I think a lot of that is due to my own initiative, not the hour we spend singing songs.

Ok just had to complain some!

Below I've posted some videos I took of a music performance we went to here in Bandung. All of the performance was by young students who attended this music school in addition to their regular school. I was really impressed with how great the little kids were, and the whole performance was really interesting.

I haven't really been exploring that much, as the classes are surprisingly tiring, and it's been nice to just chill out for a while. It seems kind of dumb, but I've actually been watching a lot of TV since there's no way I'll be doing that once I'm at my locale.

I think that's about it for now. Hopefully I'll get a chance to post some of the few pics I've taken so far at some point. Until then, enjoy the videos!

P.S. Congrats to No.1 UR: 2-0 beating Duke last week and Delaware this past weekend!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What do I know about teaching English?!

If the title of the blog didn't tip you off, I had a mild 'What the hell am I doing here?' moment today. Our time in Bandung so far has been spent in large part on preparing us to become English teachers, which is mildly hilarious because sometimes I can hardly speak the language, and now I am in charge of imparting my knowledge to 80 or so high school boys (I found out more about my pesantren, but more on that later). It will be quite a challenge to be up in front of students and to be happy, energetic, and confident enough to truly make an impact with them, but as has been mentioned to us (the ETAs) many times, our primary goal is to simply create a friendly environment where the students are able to practice conversational English. This week has done, and the following 2 weeks will do, a great deal to prepare us, but it certainly will be a challenge unlike any other I've faced.

As part of our preparation was to visit schools here in Bandung. That was very interesting, and as not all the ETAs went to the same schools, highlighted just how different the various schools can be here (the Indonesia school system is quite a jumble of possible paths, organizations, school types, and funding availability). The result is that my situation will be entirely different from many (if not all) of the other ETAs. My position is particularly interesting because of its location. As I mentioned earlier the school is about an hour from the nearest ATM (of note because that is my only way to get money), but that might not be too big of a deal because I won't really have anything to spend my money on because by the sound of it the school complex is completely out on its own (i.e. not in a village even). I'm not positive of this, but at the very least it is pretty remote. As for the school itself, I think I will be teaching roughly 80 boys. I think that I will (due to necessity and my own interest) become very involved in my school, which should be incredibly interesting.

One thing that will make this much more possible is that we've also been taking Bahasa Indonesia courses since we arrived here in Bandung. The classes haven't been all that informative to be brutally honest, but they've provided me with the motivation to start studying more. I'm quickly gaining words and how sentences are put together, but as is normal for me, having significant problems hearing and understanding the spoken language.

Bandung is a pretty interesting city, and certainly MUCH nicer than Jakarta (cleaner, less humid, we're better located, etc.). I've done a fair amount of walking around the city as I've been looking for some more clothes (things are definitely cheaper here, but not the dirt prices I was actually expecting, unless you really hunt). This is really a city of malls and shopping; which also means food courts which is a good, safe way to get some cheap food. I mention safe because I've been dealing with some stomach issues for a week now. I think I'm just now getting things sorted out (I was trying to wait it out, and I think I got two different bouts). Unfortunately, that has kept me from doing some things: I missed out on hiking in a volcano on Sunday, but other than that just some hanging out drinking with some of the ETAs. There hasn't been a whole lot of partying by us, largely due to Ramadahn going on (tonight we took part in a breaking fast dinner: enak! (delicious)).

Other than that things have been pretty mundane; still getting to know the group here even better: it's quite a diverse group, there are people from all over the country (Florida to Vermont to California to Oregon with a bunch of the states in between represented).

I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot, but that will have to do for now and hopefully I'll get a chance to write more later. If people have any questions about anything feel free to send them on to me because I don't remember what I have told to who and I also don't know what you all might want to know.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Official Indonesia welcome

If there was any doubt I was officially in Indonesia, it's gone now! I've gone through my first earthquake with no issues whatsoever. To be honest the quake seemed pretty minor to me. It was certainly less scary than the take off of my Singapore-Jakarta flight.
Officially the earthquake was a 7.0 and about 160km SSE of Jakarta deep below the ocean. Here in Jakarta we definitely felt the earthquake, but it didn't seem too bad at all to me; in fact I wouldn't have left my room after the shaking (which went for quite a while) if it hadn't been for all of the people out in the hall. I did end up going down the emergency stairs and waiting outside for a while with everyone. Eventually the building was declared safe and another aftershock (there was one around 5 something immediately after) was said to be very unlikely.
So all in all, the 'quake was not a big deal at all. The news I've seen seems to be a little over the top to me, though there were some people that freaked.
Just another story to add to this big adventure!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hazy Jakarta and 'Remote' Sidrap

My brain is still kinda swimming here, but I'm starting to settle a bit. So far we've just been doing orientation about what AMINEF does and some basic health and security tips. To be honest, the info has not been particularly helpful or relevant, but I think starting tomorrow we'll be getting more applicable info, and then when we go to Bandung (Friday) we'll start doing the language and teaching classes. Basically, we're just having to hang in Jakarta until the immigration stuff gets taken care of.

So far I've been less than impressed with Jakarta. It seems to be a huge city, but without much to see and pretty dirty/smoggy. And while things are certainly cheaper than the US, it's apparently quite a bit more expensive than the rest of the country. I basically just don't like the vibe I get here, and I'll be ready to leave for Bandung when we do. One highlight (well kinda) today was riding a taxi bike. That was interesting at time, but since we survived it was fun!
Here is a link to the hotel we've been staying at in Jakarta:

What has been a highlight is getting to meet all of the other Fulbrighters. We seem to have a really good group here (32 in total), though people seem to already be splitting off in cliques a bit (I'm doing my usual thing of bouncing between both/several).

I did get some more info on where I'll be located. I think the map I linked to earlier is correct as I am about 1 hour inland from Parepare. I knew I was in deep when the guy that is in charge of the Fulbright committee here in Indonesia described my location as ‘one of the most remote’. Apparently the school is only boys and goes from elementary age to the high school age boys I will be teaching; the two people I spoke with about the school both noted how young the high school age boys looked, and the head guy said I will likely be the 2nd American they have ever seen (he was the first). My living conditions will probably be pretty basic, as they had to make some additions just to get to the standards that AMINEF requires. There is Internet in the school however, but I’m guessing it will be VERY slow. These are all things I can deal with and in a way look forward to (nothing like a challenge!), but what has me kinda concerned is that it is fairly likely that the people I will be working with not only will not speak English, but may not even speak Indonesian; instead speaking a local dialect. The other concern I have is getting money, as Sidrap likely doesn't have an ATM; apparently I'll need to go the 1 hour to Parepare to get to an ATM (and any inkling of civilization! Ok that's an exaggeration). So in sum, it looks like I'm headed for even more of an adventure than I thought I might be getting.

Ok time for some sleep to try to get my body on schedule!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Into Jakarta

Just a quick update to everyone out there. All the flights went really well: I had extra unused seats next to me on my flights to and from Hong Kong. Once I got into Signapore I met up with the other 31 ETAs. Eventually we got to our hotel and checked in around 1am lcoal time. Rather than sleeping, most people walked around the hotel area. A group then went downtown, but I stayed with another group and we ended up hanging out on top of the hotel drinking and talking (after watching the Aresenal vs. Man U game in a local bar; it was surprisingly full).
I ended up getting about 2.5 hrs of sleep that morning (with about 5 hours of sleep on my flights, meaning right now I'm pretty out of it) before waking up for a really nice breakfast buffet and taking off for the airport. Once we got to the airport it didn't look too good for our bags being with us, but in the end we survived a bumpy take off and got into Jakarta with everyone's bags.
Right now we're moved into our hotel, and we'll be in Jakarta through Friday for various bureaucracy things. Alright, I'm gonna have to call that good enough because my brain is absolutely gone right now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Time for another adventure

It's a little hard to believe, but I am just about ready to leave the country yet again. My bags are packed and I'll head for the airport tomorrow morning for my 30 hours of travel!

While the time back was a short whirlwind, it was also really enjoyable. My time in Brazil really made me appreciate friends and family and how important they are which made getting back home to see people all that more enjoyable. Of course I'm putting more emphasis on friends and family just as I get ready to go spend 9months teaching English in Indonesia! I'm not sure I would have wanted to be home much longer though because I would have started freaking out about how little I know about where I'm going and what I'm doing; all of this should be a learning adventure.

My first month or so will be spent on orientation so hopefully next time I post it will be from Indonesia, and I'll have a better idea of what I'm doing.

Oh and I almost forgot. While I'm abroad for this extended period I would really appreciate some pictures of what's going on with people at home (or in Brazil, or Richmond, or St. Louis, or South Africa, etc.); not only will I enjoy seeing people, but I also am thinking it would be nice to potentially share with my students or friends I make in Indo.

So for at least 9 months (maybe more), goodbye to the US!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I've been back in the country almost 2 days now! It's obviously very nice to be back home and starting seeing all the friends and family I've been missing, but I've also been really busy getting stuff done (filling out insurance forms, figuring out what to pack, etc).
My last few weeks in Brazil were perfect. I had a few going away parties and got to say goodbye. As a going away gift the people in the lab gave me a USB pen drive filled with Brazilian music; each person put on whatever they thought I would like. It was a perfect gift for me: I love the music there and it's small enough to take with me everywhere I go. The music is fantastic (in fact I'm listening to it right now!), and it's fun to hear what different people put on. While I wasn't excited to leave all my friends, it was much easier because I was heading to do some serious traveling.
I got into Angra dos Reis Monday morning after taking a night bus from BH, and caught the 8am boat over, getting me to Ilha Grande in plenty of time. Ilha Grande was really nice, I felt like I was on a real tropical island (I was!). One thing that took some time to adjust to was becoming a tourist again and seeing so many gringos. Once I did that though, I was able to enjoy the island much more. One day I hiked over to supposedly one of the nicest beaches in Brazil (I wasn't all that impressed, and saw better later), another day to a waterfall and around, and the last day was spent hiking 982m up in 6km and ~2hrs to the top of the island. This last day was the highlight of the island for me, as the hike was really through the forest (very thick and diverse) and the views from atop the island were amazing. Overall the stay on IG was very good; I met some nice people, had a good hostel, saw some nice sights, and completely exhausted my legs!
After returning to Angra by boat I hopped a bus to Parati. The drive down was really picturesque with lush forested mountains right next to the sea. I got into Parati and looked around that afternoon after getting checked into my hostel (another nice one, with the atmosphere I was looking for and all you could eat home cooked meals!) looked around the colonial city center; it was nice, but no where as nice as Ouro Preto (it was also the most expensive area I saw in all of Brazil). The next day I got to chill out and spent an afternoon on a beach in Trinidade. This beach, was to me, the nicest I found throughout Brazil; very relaxed and more secluded. Neil, a Brit I met at the hostel, came with me for that day; it was nice to actually be traveling with someone for a change.
That night, after all you could eat BBQ and drink capirinhas, I had no problem falling asleep on my night bus to Sao Paulo. I had another great hostel in SP, and I really enjoyed the city even though I had heard less than stellar things about it. It is just a HUGE city, but the energy and diversity of the city was nice. There were also a number of really nice museums that I went to on the correct days to get into for free. The museum scene was a nice change from what I had been doing. Another highlight of SP was the municipal market; not the cheapest, but great food! Ibirapuera Park was also amazing, with its size, facilities (athletics, museums, open grass, etc) it was probably the nicest city park I've ever been to. Oh another highlight of SP was going to the hidden jazz bar on Saturday night; this place was literally at the back of a parking garage. You would never be able to find it if you didn't know where it was (a local took us). But once you got back there, the jazz was fantastic. That night was a lot of fun, as was all of my time in SP, traveling that last week and really all of Brazil.

I'm sure as I get more removed from the trip I will be able to appreciate it even more, but my summer in Brazil was absolutely perfect and perhaps the best of my life; I would do it again in a heartbeat and cannot wait to return.

But now it's all about Indonesia! I leave next Friday (the 28th) have about a month of training and dealing with things before I get to my pesantren until the end of May. Wow! I think I've found the city where I will be though. I've included a link below that should pull up a map zoomed in on where I will be. You should then be able to zoom out and get a feel for where I am.,+sulawesi,++Indonesia&sll=-3.784781,119.729004&sspn=1.296274,1.760559&ie=UTF8&ll=-3.689647,119.675049&spn=0.005064,0.010943&t=h&z=17

I'll be seeing some of you soon, but for everyone else take care and feel free to send me an email to let me know how things are going with you (and sorry in advance if I don't respond for a while, it's not because I don't care).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ouro Preto

Hey Everyone, this will probably be the last posting I manage before I return to the US. I cannot believe it, but my time here is almost up. In fact I leave Belo in exactly 1 week, and already have my bus ticket purchased. My week long solo trip will take me from Belo to Ilha Grande (literally 'Big Island', 1-2 hours SW of Rio) via Angra dos Reis. I'll spend 2 or 3 nights on Ilha Grande seeing some of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil and doing some great hiking (There are no cars on the island). After that I'll probably spend 1 night in Parati before going to Sao Paulo for 2 or 3 nights and hopping on my flight home Monday night. It should be a great end to a fantastic experience. I was a little worried about my Portuguese, but I feel confident I'll manage quite well. Lately I was even more concerned about my knee, but after this Friday I have no worries. I spent the whole day walking up and down hills, but have no pain. That day I was eating ibuprofen like candy as a preventative, but I haven't been taking any since and my knees are fine. Switching shoes and doing some stretches seems to have done the trick! Important since Ilha Grande has some great hiking trails!

Friday I finally made it down to Ouro Preto. My trip was really made because I went with Thiago from the lab. He absolutely loves the place; his knowledge was very helpful, but even more his enthusiasm was contagious! OP was supposedly the first place Europeans found gold in the Americas (not sure if I believe that), and is now the largest collection of homogenous Baroque Architecture in the world. The churches there are gorgeous, and all of the buildings are in the Baroque style. Part of the reason for this is because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Check out a small sampling of the pictures:
Thiago and I got down there by bus, waking up at 5:30 to catch the 7am bus and getting us to OP at 9. We stayed until 5pm and returned to BH. I was exhausted because the night before I spent at Thiago's and with Jarina coming over the three of us hung out eating, drinking, and talking. Thiago has some very nice taste (I think he has spent so much time in France that he is actually French!).

Other than that things are going great here. Finally got some results with the research, maybe not the best, but better something than nothing; of course just as I get ready to leave! Also, I'm now moved into Santuza's again for the last week.

I think that's about it. I'll be seeing some of you soon!