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.