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.