Sunday, February 28, 2010

The ups and the downs of eating

Here's one more postdated post: 27.02.10

Lately my posts have been a bit negative, which frankly have been matching my general mood. Actually negative is too strong, maybe just a little fed up or ticked off. Mostly I think the things that seemed cute or endearing at first have started to wear. That has combined with the fact that I’ve been switching between great traveling with returning to the pesantren; of course I’m going to prefer traveling over working, who wouldn’t?! But as so often seems to happen in Indonesia just as I was getting beaten down I was yanked back up.
Yesterday was a rough day in which I didn’t really do anything besides chill in my room, which was made annoying because there was no internet or TV (neither are things that are necessary, but when you have them and they’re taken away, that is incredibly frustrating). There were a number of other factors, but the take home was that I was pretty down. Then last night’s dinner was not the same vegetables and white fish; I had a streak of 8 straight lunch/dinners that were identical, and rather bland (stop complaining Aaron, you could have cooked yourself!). English club went well last night which helped too, but the real topper came this afternoon for lunch.

Before I continue I have to correct a previous statement I made. I claimed that Indonesian food wasn’t delicious. I stand corrected! Apparently I’ve just been eating the wrong stuff. There are some special occasion foods that I’ve had here (meaning ‘Bugis Land’). These standbys seem to show up at every wedding or party I’ve been too. They include a potato/noodle/carrot/corn/and oh yeah, chicken-innards soup, a somewhat sweet and spicy beef stir fry (sometimes with peanuts), and my personal favorite: a cucumber/pineapple/carrot/chili salad. Really good itik (a smaller duck) that is stir fired with sweet and a little spicy sauce is also a pretty common meal for a smaller party, and is my favorite dish in Indonesia. Also there are numerous kinds of traditional sweets that are usually ok, but just not as good as Western Sweets (something about using rice flour I’m guessing)
In general, these standby dishes are good, especially as a switch up from white fish and white rice, but not exactly delicious. Well today for lunch Daya invited me and all the teachers to her grandmother’s house; I am as full as I’ve been in a LONG time! All of the standbys I described above were there, but the best samples I’ve had. In addition, there were a couple other chicken and itik dishes that were really, really good. Usually chicken in Indo is tasty, but not overly tender (just missing those USA added-hormones!), but one of the chicken dishes today was fall apart juicy. There was also a good homemade gado-gado (vegetables in a chunky peanut sauce, and a street food standard). Oh and I almost forgot the little cupcake things (putu) with coconut, rice flour and brown sugar. The ingredients are the standards for the sweets here, but I think it was the texture of these that was particularly delicious! After today the best 3 meals I’ve had in Sidrap have all come with Daya’s family, granted one was not made by them.
Oh and as I was leaving I felt incredibly honored as I was given a specially wrapped takeaway gift. Oh I should explain, it turns out the lunch was to celebrate the Prophet’s Birthday, and everyone that came got a little takeaway with different traditional sweets and a plate of rice (fried in coconut oil) and an egg which is a Bugis tradition for the Prophet’s Bday. Most people’s was in a black plastic bag, but mine was elegantly wrapped in a banana leaf (see picture below). The only other person to get such special treatment was Imran. Daya and her family have been so unbelievably kind to me. They always make me feel like family.
And on today, I needed it!

P.S. Oh Indonesia! I wrote the above post in the afternoon. It’s now the morning after a night in which I woke up with some serious stomach discomfort. I’m feeling just ok now, but I feel like I have to add to my quote from above: just as Indo beats you down, it pulls you back up…just so it can beat you back down again. Sigh!
I’m really doing fine and I don’t think this is anything serious, it’s just frustrating.

P.P.S. 2 days later, I'm back to health

Complaining in the rain

My internet has been down lately so I've had a bag log of posts. This one was written on 25.02.10:

I don’t think there are many experiences like watching a lightning storm…in the middle of nowhere Indonesia…in a downpour…with a power outage. The only way to top it? Go shower in that downpour! Consider that life adventure checked off my list after last night. No power meant no water, and I needed a shower! I did manage to keep from singing while I was out there.

Other than that there hasn’t been a large amount of news, though I was invited to a university in Pare Pare next week. I was intending to go there that weekend anyways to visit a retired bule couple I had met earlier (any bule contact is good bule contact!). Going caused a little bit of strain with Imran who is worried to share me with anyone after he promised Nelly he would take care of me so that he could get an ETA in the first place. He seems to only remember that when it serves him, but maybe it’s just me being overly sensitive; we all know how I feel about people trying to control my life!

That has been a hard thing for me to get used to here. In Indo it seems to be pretty standard that your parents or your family play such a large part in your life that they basically control you until you’re married. That lack of independence here has bothered me some and I think it really does hinder both individuals’ personal growth as well as the development of Indonesia. For the individuals I’ve found that on average kids through young adults are much more immature than their US counterparts. Whether it is the lack of independence, laughing at childish things or an inability to perform daily actions on their own Indonesians just don’t seem quite as mature. A perfect example: Yusran, who is 27 years old, and thus presumably been driving a motorcycle for at least a dozen years (probably closer to 20), had no clue the other day on how to renew his license (I’m not sure he even knew he needed to). And when he asked Daya she responded by saying that her brother always takes care of that.
Now I know that the US is particularly independent and people strike out on their own far earlier than elsewhere, but I some point I think that everyone needs a certain level of maturity for them to be their own person, regardless of cultural norms. That’s very much a western perspective, but hey I’m Western born and raised!
No real big grandiose thoughts here to sum things up…just a topic I had been thinking about and had talked about with other ETAs.

Hope everyone is doing well back home, and Dad get back on both your feet as soon as you can!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Asking for a favor

Hey everyone. I have a post all ready and filled with tangents, but first a different topic or two.

I had a great time this weekend with a bunch of the other ETAs. We all headed up to Manado and spent some time out on a very popular tourist location called Bunaken Island; it's a well established bule tourist spot. I got a couple snorkeling trips in which was fun. The coral in the area was not the greatest (too many tourists I think), but the fish life was pretty impressive.
The majority of the weekend just went to being loud obnoxious Americans together. Coming from situations when always have to be on display a bit, it's a real release to not have to care what people think about you. The result was a lot of fun ; )

Now I'm back at the pesantren though and answering lots of questions about what happened to my nose. terlalu banyak matahari!
And the other fun little experience was getting to contribute to Indonesian corruption. On my way back on Sunday I happened to run into the police chief of the local village. Magically the next day I needed to go to the police office for some sort of registration. Before it was all said and done I was asked for Rp50,000 for 'processing'. It's only $6, but that's enough to process a whole village I think! Oh and the best part was the reason: Obama is coming to the country! Sounds like a bunch of BS to me
As for good news, I just found out today however that I don't have class during the national testing week. You know what that means...more travel! Looks like a trip to Lombok then Sumatra for Lake Toba. So I now have plans clear through the end of April. And after that we're talking days until I'm done! I'm a little excited.

But before I go I still have a project/something I want to help the pesantren with. I would like to see if there is any sort of opportunity for the pesantren to obtain some funding or exchange. I don't know exactly what this entails, but I'm doing it as a favor for Imran.
So the favor I'm referring to in the title is that all of you caring people out there keep an eye out to see if you hear about any opportunity for a furthering understanding of Islam, or helping foreign teachers, or exploring Indonesia, or just about anything that might be used by/for the pesantren.
I know this is really open ended, but maybe you'll hear of something.

Ok that's enough for now. I'll be around here a bit more

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Muin Cup 2010

On Tuesday of last week I found out that there would be no class at all this week for something called the Muin Cup (Muin is Imran’s last name and thus the name of his grandfather, the founder of PPUW). As you might guess I was pretty bitter about not being notified that there would be no class, especially considering the reason seemed to be either they didn’t care enough to tell me or maybe more likely, they wanted to make sure I was here to be shown off. Either way I found/find it pretty rude and potentially a little deceitful, but I’ve come to terms with it and am making the most of being here this short week (it helps I had an awesome weekend last weekend and am going to Manado next weekend!).

The Muin Cup turns out to be a 3 sport competition (5v5 soccer, volleyball, and takrow (a Malay-Asia game that is essentially soccer-volleyball played over a low net, but not using your hands)) between various local elementary schools. It’s actually been kind of fun to watch, though it’s really laid back (3 games a day). There is kind of a carnival atmosphere to it with the local food sellers coming in and little kids running around. Easter has been doing play-by-play for some of the soccer games and they think it’s great to have me come over and say some things, which I gladly oblige hamming it up giving my best John Madden impression (COMPLETELY lost on everyone, but I really enjoy it and they just like having me say anything).
Other than the occasional commenting, my days have been even more relaxed. I have been of some use though in that I’ve had the opportunity to just sit and slowly talk with some of my students, forcing them to speak some English.

I also took part in the opening ceremony which was pretty mundane, but I did get an official pesantren polo shirt so that was a bonus. I also really liked the marching band; ok it was just a drum corps with some sort of keyboard thing.
Of course there were some negatives, and to me the main one was getting dragged up front so that everyone could gawk at me. While I was up there listening to a few speeches trying my best to get the gist (I did decent for the record), I couldn’t help but notice that almost no one else was paying attention, and this reminded me how seemingly common this is in Indo. For a country that is so preoccupied with appearances (not just saving face as in China or elsewhere in SE Asia, but even more so), I have been really surprised and a little horrified at the insincerity of most people at ceremonies like this one. Granted this was a very inconsequential ceremony, but it’s just an example, numerous times I have felt that people are being downright rude with their actions and lack of attention. It’s one thing to let your little kids run around or even to have your phone to ring; it’s a whole other thing to laugh out loud and comment loudly about your kid running around or answer your phone and proceed to have an un-muted conversation.
And these are not single occasions, I’ve seen this happen again and again. It’s kind of frustrating considering that we (bule visitors) are asked/pressured to be very polite and appropriate. A double standard? Yeah I’m used to those.

All in all though, the week (actually just 3 days) has been pretty enjoyable and I was able to get some planning done for travels (can’t wait for a few mountain climbs in Malaysia!), class, and the WORDS competition. I’ve also started getting some more exercise which has of course put me in a better mood.

I've put up a couple pics of Muin Cup in my pesantren album, and there also some I've put up of other things going on around here.

I’ll probably continue the outflow of blogs next week. Until then…

Monday, February 15, 2010

Toraja 2.0

How am I greeted back to the pesantren from an awesome weekend? A broken modem and mati lampu. Obviously both passed, but it was still not how I wanted to return. I was also greeted with a week off from school and a bunch of little kids running around playing sports, but I'll save Muin Cup and some tangents for later.

The weekend was pretty fantastic. Jimmy arrived at the pesantren late Wednesday night. The next day he got to see my everyday life a little (though his lunch was better than normal). It was nice to be able to have another ETA see here. He didn't say too much, but I think it was a little more remote and maybe not as ideal as he was thinking (I tried to tell him!). He did see the positive things as well and reminded me that I do have an interesting situation, just not as good, or any where nearly the same, as some of the other ETAs.

After waiting for a bus, then having an interesting ride where the Indonesians decided that we had to be friends with the other two bules on the bus, we got into Rantepao late at night.

That night pretty well set the tone for the weekend: little sleep, lots of hanging out, and plenty of getting to relax with friends. As much as I like some of the Indonesians I know here, it's just different. I can't really be myself around them; some of that is self imposed, but there is simply a different level of expectations here. For me part of it is being in a pesantren and part of it is being remote. I intially thought it might be me, but I've talked to other bules and they've had similar opinions. As you'd think, being a little fake all the time is very draining, but it also means that when I/we get to let loose and meet up with American friends, we are a little ridiculous!

The highlight of the next day was walking through rice fields near Ab’s place (he stays in a hotel in the outskirts of town, near his school). This ended up with Alexa, Jimmy, Ab, and Sarah wading in a big pit of mud while I was the camera man (all my experience doing that as a kid made me not so eager to hop in). That wasn’t enough though, and next up was Sarah belly flopping into the mud for $20; I’ve got a good video below. That was really entertaining, and so much fun she did it 2x!

Dinner was us going all way across town for nothing more than fried chicken and bakso (why do restaurants even have a menu in this country?!). We were all kinda grouchy by the time we left, but got over ourselves and had another great night before waking up at 630am to go rafting.

The rafting trip started with a drive up into the hills in a 45 year old Land Rover. After that it was a steep, 1hr decent to the water. I was tired just carrying myself, so I don’t know how a couple of those guys carried everything down.
I’m often amazed here at how much physical labor gets done without a 2nd thought; the most stunning to me was seeing women making gravel. Yes, I mean ‘making’ gravel; they were bashing river rocks with hammers (no eye glasses of course!). Sometimes I wonder about this country; ‘making’ gravel seems pretty backward doesn’t it?

Once we caught our breaths at the bottom we got some details and a little coaching, at which point, I thought ‘oh, we’re going rafting. Huh, didn’t really think about that’. In other words, I had approached this trip like most things I’ve done in Indo: someone proposes something and I say sure, why not? Then I get there and realize that I’m in way over my head; I constantly find myself in this situation.
Nonetheless the rafting was TON of fun, though the rapids were pretty minor after the 1st 10seconds. One of the highlights was a cliff jump we all did. It was really interesting to see how everyone dealt with getting themselves ready to jump in; my strategy was don’t think about it, just do it (see above).

When we got back we just hung out for quite a while talking and sipping. It was fantastic to be able to sit around and chat with people about real topics for a change. It’s pretty amazing how much you can enjoy that when you don’t normally have such an opportunity.

I've put up some of the pics from the weekend up: here

The travels continue this weekend with a trip through Manado to Bunaken with at least 10 other ETAs. Should be a great time! I may try to get a post in before that

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Durian eating party

See this is what happens when I have internet in my room...a ton of blogs. Basically I've got some catching up to do about Indo things now that I can do it while sitting in my room.

As the title suggests, I had my first durian eating party yesterday. For those uniformed, durian is a very...unique fruit. The outside is sharp and spiky, but the defining feature is the smell which I've heard described as 'rotten garlic' to 'smoldering, moldy trash'. Appetizing, no? Personally I don't like the smell, but I don't find it all that bad (a blessing of having a nose that doesn't work so well).

I've had some durian before, but I easily ate more of it yesterday in 20mins than I had in my entire life before that. Probably because I don't smell it so much, I actually like durian quite a bit. It's usually pretty mush and slimy in texture, and while sweet it's got a very unique taste (luckily not exactly like the smell). As you might guess, for foreigners it's pretty much a love or hate relationship for durian; I'm not in the hate group.

I didn't really realize what I was getting into when I committed to go eat some durian and rambutan (another favorite, this one is just good and has no drawbacks). The family that invited me was the driver I've used several times to get to and from Makassar. Through some unimportant details, Daya and her aunt ended up coming too, which I ended up appreciating a great deal because I didn't know what I was getting into. First off was not leaving until later than I expected (which I expected!), but I didn't eat lunch beforehand. In retrospect that was a good choice because all of that durian would have made me sick if I had eaten a meal before.

Anyways the party was really just a chance for them to drive me around and show people that they knew a bule that would hang out for them. In other words I was a paid endorser; paid in durian, rambutan, and lanset. You might think I'm being a little jaded, and I probably am a little bit, but it really was the situation. I know they invited me to be nice (and I really did appreciate it), but I didn't even talk to the family that much, and we stopped a BUNCH of times, always to the thrill of some local.

We also spent a lot of time in their 'garden' that had all kinds of fruit trees in it. That took a while as we picked probably 40ish pounds of rambutan and lanset (these are little fruit, that's a ton!).

Anyways it was an interesting experience, and one that I actually enjoyed a fair amount, and thought I'd share because I know, no one in the US has had a durian eating party! Be glad too, because it would take a week for your house to stop smelling!

Monday, February 8, 2010


I'm apparently starting all my blogs with caveats now, but...this blog may be a bit off because I'm a little too excited right now. The reason being that this is the first blog I have published while sitting in the private AC-ness of my room! That's right, I have internet! Like I said, I'm a little too excited, but I really feel like I'm re-connected with the world a bit now. That's quite an accomplishment looking around my situation!

Because of this abundance of internet the pictures on facebook have/are being commented on, and there will be a couple new ones up in some of the older albums.

Overall I'm in a great mood right now: I have internet in my room, I just watched a little of the Superbowl (unfortunately not as much as I wanted, and none of the commericals), and maybe even more, I've got all of February pretty well planned out. A weekend in Makassar got me reinvigorated to travel and more than just survive Indo.

While I was down trading for a different internet cable I stayed with Jimmy and was able to remember what the big city is like.
My quick weekend in Mak brought up a topic I've thought about before, but never blogged on: being an Ex-Pat, and the stereotypical lifestyle that goes with it (at least here in Indo).

When I initally arrived in Indo I didn't want to be treated different from anyone (in large part because I'm such a stubborn only-child). This meant I didn't want any special treatment just becauase I had white skin or spoke English.
This is still true in some part, but I've found (readily apparent this weekend) myself falling into what I call the Ex-Pat perks. That covers a lot to me, but in general that means living a lifestyle completely different from what the average Indonesian sees everyday; to be fair when I say Indonesian I really mean the Indonesians I live with here in Sidrap.
When I first arrived, I kind of looked down on that lifestyle: not knowing much if any Indonesian, only hanging out with other bules, not eating street food, and in general just flaunting (not necessairly on purpose) that they have a huge amount of money by Indo standards, but also getting perks becauase you're a bule: cutting to the front of a line, not paying a cover charge, etc.
This weekend however, I was basically living the ex-Pat lifestlye, and I gotta say, I see what's so inviting. It's a lot of fun. More than that though I was surprsied to note that I was happy to have my bule perks since earlier I didn't want them. At first I was bothered by that, but the more I've thought about it, why shouldn't I?
When I first arrived I didn't want the perks, but I also hadn't experienced the bule negatives. If I'm going to constantly be on display (being gawked at, hello mister'd, etc) and many people are going to try to take advantage of me finacially (cab drivers taking a round about way, the price being 10x for me when I go to a marker, etc), why should I not get some benefits as well.

What it comes down to is that try as I might, I'm not an Indonesian, and I'm never going to be treated like one (at least not completely); frankly, to think otherwise is naive.
And besides, living like an Ex-Pat is a lot of fun!
As much fun as it is however, I couldn't do it for my life. Before this experience, I didn't realize how nice we had it in the US, but now I cannot wait to get back to it!
On that note, I have less than 16 weeks left teaching, and the time is going to FLY by. I'll be seeing you all soon!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Making full use of a bule?

I’m sitting in my room right now as I sweat away, hoping against logic that the power (and with it, AC and water) will come back on sometime soon. I’m not going to write about the power outages, I just wanted to let everyone know why the writing might be slightly delirious: dehydration!

I am going to use this blog for a vent session though. While it has really been going on since I arrived, there have been several instances lately that made me realize that me being here is not solely about furthering the English knowledge of the students.

“Of course not Aaron; you’re there to further cultural exchange and understanding too!”
This is true my na├»ve friend, but that’s not quite what I was thinking.

The last week or so roughly ¼ to 1/3 of my class time just hasn’t happened. There have been numerous reasons for this, but the one that took out a whole class was me going on a ‘socialization’ trip to an elementary school and a middle school, socialization apparently means recruitment, and of course the pesantren wanted to trot out their ace in the hole: a BULE!
Despite my sarcasm, I really have no problem with helping out on something like this. Truth be told, I kind of enjoyed them, and I really do want to help the school. Even when I was asked to, let’s say, ‘focus on the positives’ about how long I was staying and other details about the school, I was more than fine with it. Things like that happen in the US all the time, it’s all part of the recruitment game right?
What I was having problems with, and I’ve put an emphatic stop to this now, is that we actually canceled a class so that I could go on one of these trips. I subsequently sat in a classroom and was gawked at by about fifty 12yr olds. Now I know this probably satisfies the cultural exchange aspect of my grant and it probably helps the school, but at the cost of my students. I’ve become committed to my students enough that I care much more that they learn than that some 12-year old gets to go home and tell his parents’ he saw a white giant.

This eventually gets to my point: I think that schools here, not just mine after talking to other ETAs (in fact the other schools may be worse), care much more about the prestige of having a bule, than of actually making the most of my limited English expertise. I can appreciate that the schools have worked hard to get us, and it is a badge of recognition to have a true blooded native English speaker, but I actually want to make a difference in some students’ lives.

On that note a positive tangent: we have started a national competition between the 32 schools of the ETAs’ that will result in one student from each school getting to go to Jakarta for 3 days, all expenses paid. For my students, many of whom haven’t even been to Makassar, the provincial capital, this is a life-altering experience.
I’m so excited for them! I can’t help but think of when I went to my nation’s capital and what a dramatic change that produced (literally every significant thing I have accomplished since then can, in part, be traced back to that trip).
Because of that I was more than a little displeased when my favorite (and most advanced) class had half of their time with me wasted as we listened to a woman talk about dengue prevention(ok that’s worthwhile, but doesn’t need to take 30mins of class) and then decided that our classroom was the best place to entertain her in.
I decided it was better I didn’t enter the classroom because I might say something not so nice.

The other reason that there has been less than the scheduled class time is that students and teachers simply don’t show up on time. I know America is ultra scheduled, and I’ve been enjoying getting away from that, but when a class starts 45mins late?!
It’s very frustrating, and the teachers are often more guilty of being late or not showing up than the students. I find it pretty appalling how little the teachers care about the students. In some cases if the teacher has anything else to do they’ll cancel class (couldn’t they at least get a sub, or give some sort of assignment?!). This is made all the more aggravating because the students are so overwhelmed with the number of courses (19 for high school here). Apparently the Indo strategy is quantity over quality. It just doesn’t make sense to my scientific, logical brain, but I’m dealing with it (all part of the cultural exchange, right?!).

The nice thing about Indonesia is that even when I get really frustrated this is such a laid back country it takes all of about 30mins to get me back to ‘tidak apa-apa’ (closest translation: no worries).
I thank you all for sitting through that 30mins (in which the power came back on) with me, and I hope I didn’t sound too whiney or rambling.