Trip to Nyungwe Forest

A few weekends ago I went with some people to Nyungwe National Forest, which is actually a rainforest.

 

As before, the drive through the countryside was beautiful and provided a peek into life outside Kigali.

 

We had Friday off for Eid al-Adha, so we set off Friday morning and stopped in Kibuye, which is a town on Lake Kivu. The roads between Kigali and Kibuye, and then from Kibuye on to Nyungwe were incredibly twisty and curvy, but growing up in the mountains of Virginia (somewhat) prepared me.

 

We had planned to hike to see some chimpanzees in Nyungwe Saturday morning, and in order to do that you have to reserve places, and then go in and pay at their office Friday before 5. We accidentally drove halfway into the forest to one of their information centers, only to find out that the place we needed to go was at the entrance of the national forest that we had driven past. We sped back about a half hour, and made it by 4:50 (they closed at 5). We paid for passes and were told our guide would be at our guesthouse at 5:30am the next morning, so we went to our guesthouse—Gisakura Guesthouse.

 

The guesthouse was nice, and we saw a monkey outside, which despite having one in my hostel room in Bali, I still get excited about. The guesthouse had a buffet dinner of rice, curry, and fish. We had some beers and played cards and had an early night.

 

Saturday we were up super early and our guide was waiting outside the guesthouse. He rode with us and we set out while it was still dark. The drive to get to the forest where we were going—not technically in the national park—was about an hour and a half’s drive—mainly because of the poor quality of the roads. They send trackers out early each morning—trackers who had been with the chimps the previous evenings so they knew where they had last seen them. They go out and radio locations to the guides so we are pretty much guaranteed to see them. Obviously they cannot know for sure how long the chimps will stay at any one place, but they’ve got it pretty figured out.

 

We drove through very beautiful countryside, with lots of fields growing tea. It’s pretty rare to see dense forests since the country is so populated that most land is used for farming. But we got to the edge of the forest we were going into, and there were about 8 trackers there, one of which agreed to guard our car from potential attempts to steal parts. We agreed to pay him for that once we were back. Our guide offered us walking sticks that the trackers were holding for us, which most of us took. I was really glad I did because a lot of the hike was pretty steep with narrow trails.

 

We set off into the forest going up and down hills along narrow paths. It was pretty rain-foresty (that’s an adjective, I’ve decided). I didn’t hear as many birds as I’d think—I feel like I hear more outside my window here at home. It was still pretty densely crowded with trees and plants.   After maybe a half hour or forty-five minutes we came to where one of the trackers was, and I saw a chimp walking up the path away from us. There were still a couple chimps nearby in the trees though. We spread out to try to get a better view of them as they were high up in the trees. We watched one chimp climb up and pull some large leaves off the tree and put them down among some branches to make himself a bed of sorts, and then he lay down and stretched his arms wide in an incredibly human manner. It was so weird to see.

 

We watched them for maybe a half hour and we ended up following some of the trackers to where a lot had moved further in. We got a to a big tree where there were maybe 10-15 up there. Occasionally you’d hear a chimp calling from afar—the head chimp. (I’m sure that’s the official term… or alpha male?) The other chimps would call back and everyone would be yelling. Our guide told us that there were confrontations between the baboons and the chimps in the forest, and often the yells would be between those two groups. At one point the male chimps walked off into the forest—according to our guide to deal with the baboons—and a while later wandered back, walking right past us back to the tree. It was like watching a bunch of men back from battle. They walked past, then went up the tree and started eating the fruit on it.

 

We saw a few chimps mating (very briefly) as well, and our guide told us that unlike many other mammals, chimps mate only for procreation purposes. Interesting tidbit there. We also saw a female chimp with a baby clinging to her front. After they were a bit up the tree, the baby jumped off and started swinging from the limbs, testing out its abilities it looked like. We also heard one of the chimps let out a long fart, which was pretty hilarious—very human.

 

It was really cool to hear them and watch them interact and just be. Their motions and movements were so human-like. Chimps and humans share something like 96-98% of their DNA. It’s pretty wild.   After watching them for about 45 minutes or so, we headed back through the forest. I had a minor incident with a stinging ant in my pant leg. (Yep, ants in my pants, although technically just ant in my pant…) But I got it out, and all was well with the world.

 
When we got back to town, we were all pretty exhausted, so we made our way to a little restaurant in the village and brochettes (meat on a stick) and chips/ fries/ potatoes and beers. After eating we were standing outside the car, and lots of kids swarmed us. Most didn’t really ask for anything, just wanted to stare I guess. One or two tried the word “money”. They were cute.   We then drove through the national park to the eastern side where we were going to camp that evening. At one point there was some kind of monkey on the road, so we stopped and looked at it crossing, and then its friend who no one had seen, jumped on the hood of the car and almost stuck its head in the front window that was open. It did not seem afraid at all—in fact it seemed expectant. It stood outside our car for a minute or two looking like it was waiting for some food. It seemed to be missing a hand as well. Poor guy.

 

 

We continued, and it was seriously beautiful. It was just a bunch of mountains covered in trees, and in a way reminded me of home.

 

Our campsite was beautiful. It was a new place called Kitabi Eco-Center, and it had a 360 panoramic view of the rainforest as well as the outlying villages. They set up tents for us, and there was a bonfire and you could order tea or drinks and they made personal pizzas in their pizza oven. (It’s owned by an American doctor who now lives in Rwanda, hence the pizzas). It was a calm, peaceful, kind of chilly night on top of a mountain, and it was glorious. I do love exploring new places, but this one kind of reminded me of home and made me homesick—but in a good way. You take things for granted for sure, and although we camped some the past few years being back in Blacksburg—we should have done it more. However, it’ll still be there when I’m home!

 

Sunday we got up and had a lovely long breakfast with a view and lots of coffee and tea. We got back to Kigali in pretty good time. The drives through the towns and villages were great, although I had to grade papers a lot of the way. We actually passed a refugee camp which hosts Congolese refugees. I still have a ton to learn about the region and country, but getting outside Kigali is always interesting and fun.

 

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The Little Victories

So, the move to Rwanda hasn’t exactly been a super easy transition, which is shocking, I’m sure. I think going into it, I just kept thinking—well I moved to Palembang, Indonesia, which 1) was not the capital of Indonesia and 2) had the saddest/ most depressing Lonely Planet review for a city. (I think it was something along the lines of “the smell of concrete, fertilizer and <insert some bad-smelling thing here> will greet you as you step off the plane in Palembang… (Meaning: Don’t come here!)

Kigali seemed like it’d be a breeze—it’s the capital, lots of expats and returned Rwandans who had already brought in the cheese, croissants, and (somewhat) good wine. (Maybe I should be moving to France??) I also think that it is likely that people have a tendency to only remember the good things in past experiences—whether they’re relationships, trips, or places you’ve lived. My mom assures me that I didn’t settle in that easily into Palembang either—but I remember it differently. And to be fair, I was only there for a week and then all us fellows met for a week (?) orientation in Bandung, and I cemented some seriously wonderful friendships that I still have 5 years later. Maybe knowing that I had lovely people in the same country going through the same ups and downs helped. Or maybe I’m not remembering the loneliness, discomfort, and confusion that moving to a new country brings.

Kigali is an easy enough city to be an expat in, but it’s been a little difficult. It’s been about a month now, and I’m finally starting to feel settled and content. I’m not a person who relishes time spent alone—in fact it’s a characteristic about myself I’m working on. I am a pretty hard-core extrovert, who probably needs some introversion but is terrified of it. I’ve had a lot of alone time here—mainly because the house I moved into was in transition with people moving in and out and on vacation. I’ve spent quite a bit of time here alone, which again, isn’t bad—I lived on my own in Indonesia and in the states, but I just wasn’t really prepared for it here I guess.

 

That being said, it has been good for me. I’ve had to be alone with my thoughts and myself, and I’ve had to reflect on what I want and what is important to me. I joined a gym (which is shocking in and of itself). I had prided myself up until now by being able to say “I’ve never been a member of a gym”—as if that is a badge of honor—which it is to me! Or at least it was…. But it gets dark so early here, and the hills are mental, so my running-self thought it best. Plus the real reason I decided to join this gym—Waka Fitness—is that they have a deal with the Mille Collines Hotel (Hotel Rwanda) where you can use their pool for free. The Milles Collines Hotel pool is lovely and not far from my house; it has a great view and nice seating and hammocks, so I thought that a wise investment.

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View from a treadmill

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The real reason I joined a gym

I also decided to buy a guitar, which first required me locating a guitar shop. There’s one in the center of town, where there are lots of little shops and tons of people walking, moto-ing, and driving around. Congestion city. So I gathered my courage and got a moto to the rough address of where I had read the shop was. There were about 10 men standing inside/outside of the shop and all started beckoning me in as I approached. Very stressful shopping. It was like they were competing to sell me the guitar, but they were all in the same shop. They started pulling some down and I just said “how much” and “what’s the cheapest?” Ha. I just cut to the chase really.  They showed me the cheapest one and said it was 70,000Rwandan Francs ($83ish). I told them I’d pay 50,000. ($59ish) They said 60K. I said ehhhhh and decided to walk away (to go to the ATM where I’d withdraw whatever they wanted because I didn’t want to come back and go through this again). But when they saw me walking they said 50K was fine. I should have gone lower! Ah well. I thanked them and told them I’d be right back. So I bought myself a guitar, and have been fiddling (guitaring) around on it—remembering my very tiny repertoire—and yes, I obviously played Wagon Wheel immediately. I should have started busking.

I found a moto to take me home and clutched my work bag in my lap and held tightly on to my guitar with one hand and onto the back of the bike with my other. My arms hurt the next day, but I felt I had scored a small victory!

 

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My guitar on the streets of Kigali

I think what I’m starting to notice is how these “small victories” make up life.
Yesterday was a public holiday so I worked from home. I got a bit restless working at home; I spent most of the morning grading and planning for a drama class I’m going to teach in the fall. So eventually I decided to continue working on everything from a coffee shop (the extrovert in me craves just being near people), so I got a moto to a coffee shop not too far. (I would have walked but so many bags and hills). After doing work at the coffee shop, I got a moto to the gym. (I realize this is ironic.)  I ran about 4 miles on the treadmill—overlooking the city, showered there, found another moto to take me to Sawa City—a grocery store that I hadn’t been to yet but I knew had the best bread. The moto driver didn’t know where it was, and he started calling someone on his cellphone as he was driving me and I waved my hand in front of him (very safe—but safer than phoning while driving?) and said I will show you. I directed him there from the gym, bought my bread and such—tried to prevent a woman from holding my shopping basket for me while I had my workbag on one shoulder and gym bag on the other—looking like a packhorse. I paid, started walking down the busy road (on the sidewalk, don’t worry), and eventually saw a moto without a passenger and waved him down. He picked me up, and I carefully balanced three bags—one on each shoulder and one in my lap—and directed him to my house. As I was getting that last lift home, I just thought to myself about how far I’ve come in this past month. Yes, going to a coffee shop, gym, and grocery store all in an afternoon and navigating the transport really doesn’t sound like a big deal—in fact it’s a typical, boring (privileged) day really, but it was a collection of small victories as well.

(Sorry if you thought that long story was going to have some kind of conflict or climax… Alas, just an epiphany.)

 

There’s a Bill Bryson quote I love in which he says:

 

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

 

This is part of why I love living abroad—as hard as it is at first. I know I take so much for granted in my day-to-day life, no matter where I am. Living in a foreign country, you’re pushed outside of your comfort zone to such an extent that going to the gym and grocery store can seem like an exciting accomplishment.  In my life, going to the gym anywhere in the world is an accomplishment (it’s just way more exciting to get there on the back of a moto).

 

So here’s to the small victories, which we all have every day. We just have to remember to look for them.

 

 

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Akagera National Park

I finally got outside of the big city.
There’s a facebook group here called “Expats in Rwanda” for foreigners living in Rwanda, and people post stuff for sale, restaurant recommendations, the occasional complaint, and also requests for people to fill their safari truck for a day trip! Someone posted a week or so ago, asking if anyone wanted to join in a day trip to Akagera National Park. They had figured out the transport, cost, etc, and so were trying to fill up the car to make it cheaper (and more enjoyable I’m sure!)

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Without knowing much about it, but having heard of it, I responded that I was definitely interested, and so on Saturday, I woke up at 4:15am and met at the house of one of the women at 5am. There were 6 of us, plus the driver, in a big safari-type truck thingy (I’m so good with names and types of vehicles). It was one of those that you could actually lift the full roof up and stick your head outside and just stand up in the car (not advisable in Kigali traffic, but very useful in the park when you want to get that elusive shot of the warthog and also stretch your legs).

 

Unfortunately, it was difficult to keep my eyes open at the beginning of the trip—which was about 2 and a half hours. Leaving the city was so interesting though—so many people were awake and up and going about their daily business. Lots of kids were running around, there were many women and kids carrying yellow canisters that people use to fill water at “water stations” (I think I made that term up), and men using bicycles to transport large loads of banana stems. (I definitely had to google the term for a large number of bananas straight off a tree and in fact spent more than several minutes and I’m still not sure that’s right—have you heard of a “hand” of bananas? Wonderful! More Hand puns!) Luckily, I have photos, so you don’t have to try to sift through that digression.

 

There were goats and cows, with kids herding both… There were women walking along the road with baskets on their heads. The houses are made of concrete, and as it’s the dry season, everything is pretty dusty. I saw women sweeping the dirt ground around their homes, and through every village, people (men, women, and children) gathered around water pumps.
The countryside is beautiful. It’s called the land of a thousand hills for a good reason. Again, as it’s dry season, it was a little brown, but still beautiful. I’d imagine once the rain starts, it’ll be a gorgeous green.

 

 

It took a few hours to get to the entrance of the park. The park runs north-south, along the Tanzanian border. The way it works is you enter in the south, and drive through the park heading north—about 5 hours according to the people at Akagera, but it didn’t feel like that long. We stopped some, and since we could stand in the truck, it didn’t get too cramped, plus it was pretty spacious inside anyway.

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As we entered, we were asked by our driver if we wanted a guide, and we agreed we did, and all chipped in to hire one of the “rangers” (not sure if this is the preferred nomenclature here). He rode in the front seat with the driver and told us about the park and the animals found there, etc. When we got going into the park we saw a herd (?) of giraffes—gosh I’m going to need to work on my quantifiers—such a bad English teacher. We saw loads of zebras, different types of antelope, impala (not the car), monkeys, hippos, crocodiles, baboons, buffalo, warthogs, and lots of different types of birds (sorry birds, you’re all the same). In the park there are rhinos, lions (very few), and elephants, but unfortunately we did not see any of those. Next time?

The hippos were pretty awesome to see—yawning in the middle of the water. We saw them emerge at “Hippo Beach”. There were maybe 10 or so, and a number of them trudged out of the water onto the beach. They’re massive, and apparently pretty dangerous.

 

 

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Embarrassing story alert:

We spotted a warthog running, caked in mud, below our truck, and the guide said “Pumba!” And silly me, asked something along the lines of, “Is that what you call them?” He replied, “No, it’s from the lion king.” <cringe> I knew that….

I am ashamed to admit it, but being “on safari” (albeit a smaller one)—the lion king was definitely popping up in my mind.  But maybe I can blame the guide for putting it in my head… Don’t worry; I didn’t start singing the circle of life (but I did sing it in my head).

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Hey Pumba!

 

The guide also told us a bit about the history of the national park. At one time it was twice as large, with many more animals—including lions. However, in the late 1990s after the genocide, thousands of refugees who had fled in the 1960s and 70s flooded back over the border from Tanzania and settled in large parts of the savannah. These returned refugees ended up killing many of the wild animals in order to protect their livestock. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, so the returned refugees really needed land. The government ended up halving the park, to supply people with land to settle on.

Since the early 2000s, there has been great investment in the park—patrolling, protecting, and maintaining it. They’ve re-introduced some animals. They brought lions from South Africa to replace the ones that were killed off, as well as black rhinos.

Like so much in Rwanda, the park has been through a lot, but has survived and is now thriving.

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A note on Charlottesville

I sat down tonight to write a blog about my trip to Akagera National Park in Eastern Rwanda on Saturday. I started it, and I’ll finish it, but I just can’t focus. On Saturday, I was heading into the countryside, set to enjoy the day—and I did. I wasn’t connected to the outside world—it was glorious. But after a long (great) day in the national park looking at incredible natural beauty, we were on our way home, and my phone started buzzing—news alerts from BBC, Washington Post, texts from home. From Virginia.

 

I was just in Charlottesville about a month ago—on an overnight trip with my mom and step-mom (yeah we’re that cool) to enjoy wine country and hang out before I moved to Rwanda. Charlottesville always struck me as a bigger, richer Blacksburg, but equally open-minded (read: liberal), beautiful, and fun.   It’s only a few hours north of Blacksburg—situated in our beautiful mountains. It had been infiltrated recently by white nationalists, but I hadn’t heard or realized how big this demonstration was shaping up to be. I had seen the tiki-torch raising, polo-shirt wearing young white frat boy types (no offense to all polo-shirt wearing, frat boys out there) marching and terrorizing the night before. People were mocking them, especially the fact that they were using tiki-torches—clearly a culturally appropriated item. But Saturday, it got ugly.

I’ve been obsessively reading story after story, reading posts from friends who were there, scrolling through Heather Heyer’s facebook page.

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I hate that I’m not home. I wish I had been there. Marching against Nazi, racist scum.

But I’m here. I’m in Rwanda. You see (or don’t see) the scars and wounds caused by ethnic hatred that resulted in a genocide—a hatred that was taught, by the way, and fomented by European colonizers who knew that it was easier to control a population when you divide it against itself. These are lessons that we MUST learn from history.

A photo-journalist I know from Blacksburg, Laura Saunders, was in Charlottesville, documenting and she shared a post reflecting on her experience. Here’s an excerpt:

I keep hearing people say how shocked they are, particularly that this could happen in a city like Charlottesville. To deny the white supremacist history of Virginia, is to erase the fact that this nation was built on its very ideals. It is to erase the genocide of indigenous peoples and the slavery that built this nation’s wealth. It is to erase the generations of trauma and suffering lived by the communities of color who continued to be excluded, persecuted, ostracized, and criminalized in the centuries since. These are not facts we learn growing up in this commonwealth of Virginia despite it being home to the capitol of the Confederacy. But guess what? We now know the agenda of the folks who wrote our textbooks- and to deny this for another minute longer is nothing short of an endorsement for white supremacy to thrive and for these events to continue spreading like a disease.

When I hear otherwise good people say well there were two sides, or what about Black Lives Matter—I truly find it hard to not explode in tears or screams of frustration. To compare a group that is fighting AGAINST racial discrimination and for equal rights for ALL (Black Lives Matter) with people whose whole mission is to segregate if not outright kill those who are different from them is just completely unjustifiable and ridiculous. We all have a duty to educate ourselves on these things.

 

BLM does NOT mean your white life doesn’t matter. It means, hey, we’d like some equal rights over here, and to not have to watch black people be killed and imprisoned for things white people do all the time. (I went to college—and visited friends’ colleges. White men do drugs at a rate similar to black men—yet who has higher imprisonment rates of 6 times higher?) Who is more likely to be pulled over?

According to the BLM website: “The statement “black lives matter” is not an anti-white proposition. Contained within the statement is an unspoken but implied “too,” as in “black lives matter, too,” which suggests that the statement is one of inclusion rather than exclusion. However, those white people who continue to mischaracterize the affirmation of the value of black life as being anti-white are suggesting that in order for white lives to matter, black lives cannot. That is a foundational premise of white supremacy. It is antithetical to what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for, which is the simple proposition that “black lives also matter.” The Black Lives Matter movement demands that the country affirm the value of black life in practical and pragmatic ways, including addressing an increasing racial wealth gap, fixing public schools that are failing, combating issues of housing inequality and gentrification that continue to push people of color out of communities they have lived in for generations, and dismantling the prison industrial complex. None of this is about hatred for white life. It is about acknowledging that the system already treats white lives as if they have more value, as if they are more worthy of protection, safety, education, and a good quality of life than black lives are. This must change.”

Source: http://blacklivesmatter.com/11-major-misconceptions-about-the-black-lives-matter-movement/

So STOP with that argument.
There were NOT two sides to Saturday. There were Nazi/KKK/ white supremacists, with an intent to terrorize (see the military gear) and those there to stand against them and stand up for the rights of all people.

Further, we CANNOT ignore how this was made possible. Yes, obviously it’s been there all along. But Donald Trump has given these racist people a platform and has encouraged them. They elected him with his promise of taking America back. (Back from whom? Non-whites clearly). His rhetoric against Latinos, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, people with disabilities—you name it! He has slammed, insulted, and degraded all these groups—but NOT white supremacists. The one group he doesn’t enjoy insulting on twitter? Those who put him in that office have a responsibility to denounce him when he fails to denounce the domestic terrorists who wreaked havoc in Charlottesville on Saturday.

It is not surprising to any of my friends or family that I’m talking about this in such an open way. It may not have any impact whatsoever, except that it makes me feel a little bit better and a little bit closer to home if only for a moment.
But what I urge my friends and family, who are not so politically vocal or active, is to become so. Now is not a republican vs. democrat fight. This is a fight for the very soul of our country. I can’t believe that I know anyone who would condone this violence. And if you say “but there were two sides”—that is YOU excusing the white supremecists.

Reach out to a local organization. Get involved with an organization that supports disadvantaged communities. Or if you can’t spare the time, maybe you can spare some money for one of these groups—especially in Charlottesville (or in your own community).

http://www.belovedcommunitycville.com


Step out of your comfort zone.
Read something you wouldn’t typically read and try to understand the issues (Which I know is hard). Here’s a list posted following Charlottesville:

https://www.bustle.com/p/in-the-wake-of-charlottesville-every-american-should-read-these-20-books-76366?platform=hootsuite

POST something on Facebook or twitter—many of my friends have more politically diverse friend-groups than I do. Talk about it. Your friend or aunt who voted for Trump—ask what they think about this. The whole “don’t talk about politics” is not an option right now. This isn’t politics. It’s humanity.  Be willing to have those hard conversations (I’m telling myself this too), and not necessarily on Facebook–face to face is even better.

Speak out. This is the time.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

“To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.” -Elie Wiesel

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Muraho (hello) from Kigali!

Well helloooo. This Hand is across the water again, but this time, in Kigali, Rwanda.

 

I had promised friends and family that I’d keep a blog to document my experiences here in Rwanda. For some reason it’s been more difficult this time around to get started. I still feel a bit in a daze for some reason. But here we go anyway!

 

The job:

 

Before I left, there were definitely more than a few people who said some version of, “Why?!” “Why Africa?!” “Why Rwanda?” And in fact some students have asked the same question, but with a very different tone-ha!
So, to answer: it wasn’t so much, “I want to go to Rwanda!” (Although I had read a lot about it in the past.) It was a matter of the right job. I had been looking to teach abroad again, and after perusing and applying and investigating and being interviewed, the position at Bridge2Rwanda seemed ideal.

 

What B2R does, according to the website:

“Bridge2Rwanda Scholars is a rigorous program that identifies and prepares Rwanda’s most talented and promising students to compete for international scholarships.

Once they are awarded a scholarship, B2R connects the students to local host families, communities of faith, academic counselors, career advisors and internship opportunities. The goal is not only to prepare B2R Scholars to succeed as international students, but to live with purpose as future leaders of Africa.

B2R creates jobs and opportunities to help the Scholars launch their careers in Africa. B2R is building a network of potential employers in Africa, including local, foreign-owned and multinational businesses, NGO’s and governments.”

See, that sums it up better than I could have rambled about.

My position is the Lead English teacher, which of course requires teaching, but also more administrative tasks. Very similar to my job at Virginia Tech, the students come with a certain level of English, and the academic prep team’s role is to help them learn more academic English, including reading longer more intense articles and books, taking notes on longer academic lectures, writing essays and research papers, giving speeches, and developing more critical thinking skills rather than the rote memorization that many have been used to.

 

The scholars I teach (38 of them) are from Rwanda (most), Burundi (2), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2), and South Sudan (5- including two who were living in Kakuma Refugee Camp—where I was last summer). The woman who I replaced in this job (who went back to the US to get her PhD) explained the scholars like this: “Imagine a class of 38 valedictorians”. I don’t think I’ve ever taught such motivated, hard-working students. Well, not a whole class of them at least. They know what the stakes are, and they have all had education as a priority in their lives. They had to apply to this program, and were interviewed in large groups and then individually. They had to show a level of modesty and community-service. They all live together in a house near the campus, and are trained from the beginning (they started in March) that they will only succeed if they work as a team—which goes against a lot of the competitiveness of a student who is used to being at or near the top. That hard job has already been done with this cohort—Group 7. It’s now August, so they’re about four months in.

 

So far, I’ve felt a little overwhelmed in the job, just trying to make sure I’m getting everything done, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve got my head around (most) of it. At the moment the main class I’m teaching is a test-prep class—preparing them to take the TOEFL exam (which is a requirement of most US universities that shows their English level). So, that leaves a little less room for creativity, but the spring and fall classes have a bit more space for that. They’ll take the exams starting early fall, so it’s pretty much crunch-time now.

 

On my first day I was greeted with welcome signs, applause, and a song. Pretty hilariously, they applaud after some lessons (but don’t after others which starts to give you a complex). Although I’m pretty sure it just takes one student to start and the rest follow suit, it’s pretty funny. They might just be clapping that class is finished though….

So, onto…..

 

The City (Kigali) First impressions:

 

I’m going to go ahead and make the analogy that I’m in the NYC of Rwanda. Someone trying to explain US culture and life to his or her friends and family after moving to New York City would probably miss a lot of “typical” American culture. (I truly do love NYC, but it’s pretty damn different from the regular small-mid-size towns in the US.) So, I’ve moved to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, meaning I haven’t really seen how “typical” Rwandans live in the rest of the country. Kigali has maybe a little more than 5% of the population of Rwanda.
Kigali is a strange mixture of skyscrapers with fancy hotels and pools (including the famous Hotel des Milles Collines—which the movie Hotel Rwanda was based on) and then more “working class” (for lack of a better expression) neighborhoods. It almost feels like two separate cities that exist on top of each other.

In a lot of ways, life is not hard here for a typical expat. There are a lot of restaurants (although some people who have been here longer say there really aren’t that many….but they’re not from Southwest Virginia). There are Indian restaurants, American/European, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, “Mexican” (kind of not really), and of course African/ Rwandan. Beyond that, there is a food delivery service where you can order food online and it gets delivered by motorcycle. So, yeah. Life truly isn’t that difficult (if you have money).

 

There are lots of groceries, and although not everything is familiar (the sweet potatoes are white inside!) you can pretty much find most things. I was luckily warned of the lack of dark chocolate (I’m such a princess) so I brought my own. There is red wine, which after a year in Indonesia without (except for random trips to bigger cities & Bali) I am forever grateful for it. It’s not necessarily what they’re known here for, but it’s available. The avocados are plentiful, huge, and cheap and there’s even an avocado tree in my front yard, although I do need to figure out how to get them before they drop and rot. Climb the tree? I’ll google it.

 

There are coffee shops, several of which have rooftop seating with incredible views of the city. The great thing about a city built on a bunch of high hills is that lots of places have amazing views—including the house where I live.

(Views from coffee shops)

Most middle-upper class Rwandans (and probably all expats) have housekeepers and guards (who sometimes also work as gardeners). The house I’ve moved into (with other expats—all of whom I haven’t met yet—another story) has a guard and a housekeeper. The guard lives here full time, in a room at the back of the house. He’s in his early 20s, and is nice and helpful, especially when I get back late and stupidly can’t open the gate. (I’m working on it). The housekeeper does laundry, washes floors, and does dishes. I’ve only seen her once since I’m usually at work, but she’s also nice. This is one thing that is a bit strange for me. I know it’s the norm, but there’s just an uncomfortable element of colonialism in it. Although of course many Rwandans in Kigali have guards and housekeepers too. In Indonesia I had a housekeeper as well, because my Indonesian neighbors said I should—and I mean, it truly was great to have someone else do the cleaning! (It’s definitely not my forte.) However, like I said, there is a certain aspect of two different Rwandas, which I feel especially when it comes to things like that. But that being said, there are two different USAs in many ways, which in my middle-class existence I haven’t had to experience. SO yeah. There’s that.

 

Some of the challenges (for me anyway):

 

Transportation: Well, I don’t know if it’s technically a challenge. I mean, it’s not too hard to flag down a moto driver. (Moto = motorcycle taxi). Probably the bigger challenge is explaining where you want to go when you don’t exactly know (something I should be able to get better at) AND when the driver sometimes doesn’t understand you (fair). It’s also a bit challenging to not have any other options besides motos. (And walking, but did I mention the hills?)—Oh a quick aside: Even if you DID want to walk, and the place you want to go is directly below your house, you will still have to walk SO far out of the way because the streets don’t connect. Like, the street will go parallel to the one you want to be on and you have to walk all the way down and around the hill, not straight down. (Can I paint a visual or what?) It’s very frustrating. Anyway, back to the motos— their helmets are always too big and sometimes the drivers aren’t the most sensible (although neither are the drivers of cars—which doesn’t help). I’ve been encouraged to look for a car if I’m planning to be here for any length of time, but how does one who has been spoiled with two mechanical fathers buy one’s own car?! I ask you. Maybe a scooter?

Views from the backs of motorcycles (and a helmet selfie)

 

Language: Actually not too big of a challenge, as a lot of people have at least some English. However, life would be much easier if I spoke Kinyarwanda or even French, although a lot of the younger generations have less French, since the whole Rwandan school system switched over to English about 5(?) years ago—not too happy with past French influence.

This challenge I intend to (somewhat) overcome. I’ve enrolled in an 8 week Kinyarwanda course (3 hours a week) at my favorite coffee shop which will be Tuesday/Thursday from 6:30-8. Although I’ve heard over and over how difficult this language is, I’m hoping to get at least a basic sense of greetings, food (!), numbers (haggling), etc. In general, I think it just shows a certain amount of respect to at least attempt to have a basic level of language. Plus, it gives you insight into so much more if you’re able to communicate with more people. I don’t know how much I’ll really need it, as it’s pretty easy to get by in Kigali anyway without it., but it’ll definitely help with transport and just being a nice Kigali-resident really I guess. However, I’m hoping to travel more to the countryside and then it’ll be especially useful.

 

I’ll try to have some adventurous escapades to write about here, which could end up being simply a trip to a grocery store or a neighborhood run where children run in front of you like some backwards pied piper. (That already happened, but not total blog-post worthy).

 

Anyway, I’m happy to be back on here and hope you enjoy reading!

 

 

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Final Reflections on my year in Indonesia

So, I’m home.  And I’ve been getting that question I knew would be waiting for me…

“How was Indonesia?!”

That three word question.  How to answer it?

Great? Amazing?  Life changing? Crazy? Surreal?

I wanted to wait a little while before I wrote my final blog—reflecting about how my past year was.  I left Indonesia only a month and a half ago, but it feels like it could have been years ago really.   I’ve only been back in the US for a few weeks.  Before I came home I went to England and Ireland to visit friends and family for three weeks, so I had a gradual reintroduction to Western life (food, language, no one staring at me…)

I’ve been in touch with some of the other Fellows from my program, and one of them said something that I think sums up my feelings.  She was saying that, once we’re home, we pick up where we left off—nothing has really changed, and that is good in so many ways because I want to feel like home is not a strange place, but at the same time, it’s almost as if the past year never happened.  This massive, important part of our lives is truly finished and stuck in the past somehow because no one around me was there or can understand what I’m talking about, and no one wants to be that person who is constantly saying, “oh well, when I was in Indonesia…”  My year in Indonesia is just a piece of my life—this moment in time in the past, and gone.  And that’s rather depressing.

There is a quote that I really like about how I felt:

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”

There is so much I want to remember and share, and yet I know it doesn’t mean nearly as much to my ‘audience’ (friends & family) as it does to me.  It’s almost as if I think if I say it out loud, it’s not really over.

That being said, I do want to take a minute to think about what the year really and truly did mean to me.

Career

This year was my first with a Master’s degree in TESOL, and I can’t imagine a more rewarding year.  I taught at a university which is still crazy to me!  Writing a syllabus and having university students were all exciting things.  I was able to present at conferences and conduct workshops to train teachers and pre-service teachers.  These are opportunities I wouldn’t have probably had in the US with only a few years experience teaching. And they were wonderful experiences.  I got to meet so many educators from across the massive country; there were so many people anxious to improve English education in Indonesia, and I learned a lot from them too.

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Being part of a State Department program lent me some degree of legitimacy I felt, both in Indonesia and in the U.S., especially to people who may wonder what it is I’ve been doing the past 5 years (since finishing my undergraduate degree).  I’d like to remind them of that quote, “Not all who wander are lost”, but some people would disagree.  So then I can point to the first legit ‘job’ I’ve had, and say, “hey, I was a cultural ambassador, so THERE”.  (Maybe this is more my issue than anyone else’s?)

Being a cultural ambassador was an amazing job.  When my taxi driver asked, “dari mana?” (where are you from?) I’d proudly reply, “dari Amerika” and then try and have a real conversation with him–impressing him with my superb (ha) Indonesian.  Upon returning home, I’ve been happy to tell anyone who will listen how hospitable, kind, and welcoming Indonesian people are.  I was able to be part of U.S. Embassy programs and initiatives.  I got to watch Barack Obama win re-election (and the state of Virginia!) at the U.S. Consulate in Surabaya.  I was able to meet a number of people who had studied in the U.S. through U.S.-Indonesian educational exchanges, and I saw how much that impacted their lives and work.

Life-style 

There are a lot of quotes I want to use in this blog.  Here’s another one:

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”  (Bill Bryson)

It was the simplest things that were interesting and exciting to me this past year.

I was able to live on my own (for the second time in my life), and I still love it.  My trips to the supermarket consisted of finding a becak to take me to the mall, buying food, and getting a becak back home.  I got to school and home every day by ojek—texting one of two guys I knew to ask if they’d pick me up at ______ o’clock.  Riding through the backstreets (and main streets) of Palembang by motorcycle was something I still found fun up to the end; although the main streets were less fun and more insane.  I jogged around Kambang Iwak a few times a week, seeing some of the same people—some people stopping me to talk (some I knew, some I didn’t), and some stopping me to take a photo!  (Red and sweaty, and they still want a picture).  Some days I’d cook, other days I’d walk to a local warung to buy some dinner.   I would walk through my neighborhood and see a rat run into the gutter and I wouldn’t even flinch!  I would scream bloody murder when I saw one in my house though—running out to my neighbor, Danie, who brought over a broom.  We asked the older men across the road and they just laughed and shook their heads, as if to say, “heck no we’re not going after a rat!” It left eventually, and I’d wage war against the cockroaches and ants.  The geckos who scurried along the walls and floors didn’t bother me—they were actually cute!

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The Ibu & her daughter who owned the warung around the corner from my house. I bought my air galon (gallon of water) and pulsa (phone credit) from them quite regularly.

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goodbye pictures outside my house with my ojek & friend, Taufik!  He loves it. hah

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I could be an ojek!

For fun I’d meet some of my friends at the weekend or during the week—from Indonesia, Malaysia, England, and the U.S.  We’d go to “GUNZ”, yes, it was called gunz—a café close to my house that had hookah and lots of drink choices (all non-alcoholic of course).  They’d have live music, often a boy band type singing a mix of Indonesian pop and Western pop (ex: Simple Plan)…  my neighbor, Danie, and I would also frequent Eat Café, an outdoor place near our house that had a mixture of Asian and “western” (?)  food, and more importantly, beer.

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On my last weekend, I went with my friend Hafiza, and her new housemate and colleague, Beth, on a transport adventure around the city.  We tried to use as many forms of public transport as possible.  We talked to people; Beth had a lot of photos taken of her (she’s blonde—way more exciting!)

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Many weekends, though, I was traveling—either to a workshop, conference, camp, or occasionally a “just for fun” weekend away.  You can’t be all the way over in Indonesia without trying to explore as much as possible (I told myself).

I made a list in my journal of things I got used to in Indonesia:

  • Not wearing seat-belts in the backseat (they don’t usually exist anyway)
  • Not showing ID at the airport
  • Bringing water through airport security (among other liquids!) and then feeling outraged when international flights make me chug my water in front of them
  • Traffic lights are mere suggestions
  • I started cutting in ‘line’ at airports (when in Rome!)
  • Rolling up my pants before entering public restrooms due to the ‘flooding’ (In Indonesia water = clean). Ew.
  • Bringing little packets of tissues with me EVERYWHERE
  • Letting servers stand beside you and wait for you to order as soon as you sit down (although I never really got used to that)
  • “Salam-ing”  (I made that up)…Younger people putting my hand to their heads.  A sign of respect.
  • Getting called “Mister!”  (I kind of miss it).
  • Being offered tea/coffee with about a cup of sugar inside (putting Southerners to shame).
  • WAITING: for planes, for students, for a schedule, for everything.  (Patience is my life lesson that I will probably never learn).
  • Geckos running across my walls and floors
  • Ants residing in my notebooks and table. (Yes, IN)
  • Having a housekeeper. Oh how I miss Bu Any.
  • Never (rarely) doing my own laundry
  • Being told I’m beautiful by total strangers!
  • Being told “I LOVE YOU” by total strangers!
  • The strange 90s throwback songs on Lion Air
  • Flying several times a month
  • Sweating profusely & carrying those tissues to wipe myself off
  • Needing more than one shower a day (needing…yes, taking…hmmm)
  • Moving my big fan from room to room at home depending on where I am
  • Not really knowing what most people are saying around me
  • Eating copious amounts of rice (no, I don’t miss it).
  • Singing/doing karaoke! (I MISS IT!)
  • Strangers talking to me.
  • Not wearing makeup (no point!)
  • Not drying or “doing” hair
  • Wearing clothes that make me look/feel like a bag lady.  (not my most attractive year perhaps? But it’s okay, because “YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL MISS!”)
  • Surviving without wine (kind of….)
  • The stares
  • Nothing happens fast
  • The call to prayer 5 times a day, with the early one lasting about 2 hours sometimes….

I think there were more my friends had told me, but those were the ones I’d written down.   Re-reading them, even if they sound annoying, I kind of  miss it!

What I learned from Indonesia: (I know there is more…but I think I need to reflect more..)

-Not to be in such a hurry.  “You must be patient, Miss”.  “I AM PATIENT!”  (She answers, impatiently).

-organization and schedules are STILL a good idea.  Not knowing what classes I was going to teach or when they were or if there were materials—all the week before classes started, not really something I’d like to get used to.

-talking to strangers can be a great way to become part of a community.  There was something nice in standing out, because more people did talk to you, and you were able to start conversations more easily because there is an immediate topic of conversation, “Where the heck are you from?!”

-I have taken for granted being able to blend in, and get on in life without anyone noticing me.  I don’t want to speculate here, but I’d say there are plenty of people in the U.S. who get ‘stared at’ because they are different somehow.  It is an uncomfortable feeling, even when it isn’t hostile.  It’s been a bizarre experience to walk around outside without anyone waving or screaming “hello mister!!”

Travel

-My friends in the program like to joke that this past year has been a vacation.  That doesn’t mean it was easy—there was a lot of lesson-planning, conference-presenting, camp-running, and work-shopping that went into our year there, but it helped that we all got along so well, and were able to travel to see each other and do workshops, camps, and conferences together.  And it didn’t hurt that many of these experiences were in different parts of this amazing country, so that we were able to cover a serious amount of ground.

-All in all I saw:

ISLANDS: cities/areas

– Sumatra: Palembang (Duh), Pagar Alam, Banda Aceh

-Bangka (around the island)

-Java: Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bandung, Bogor, Surabaya, Malang

-Lombok: Mataram,

-Gilis:  Gili Trawangan, Gili Air (heaven)

-Bali: Ubud

-Flores: Maumere, Kelimutu, Moni, Ende, Labuan Bajo

-Komodo

-Rinca

-West Timor: Kupang, some random beach

-Sulawesi: Kendari, Makassar, Tana Toraja

-Kalimantan (Borneo): Banjarmasin

OUTSIDE INDONESIA:

-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with my friend, Danie, for her cousin’s engagement party were I got to wear a sari!

-Singapore with 5 other Fellows

-Australia!!! Probably one of the most amazing parts of this year is the chance I had to visit Australia and meet aunts, uncles, and cousins I had never met, or had met but hadn’t seen in YEARS.  My dad has 3 sisters who immigrated to Australia and so I got to meet and spend time with first cousins and aunts and uncles, which was such an amazing experience.  Meeting people and seeing yourself or your family in them is such a cool thing, and I know I’ll be back (and they’ll hopefully come to the US!)

Palembang

Upon being placed in Palembang, I got a lot of “ooooh, Palembang” (cringe).  Yes, the city is not the most glamorous in Indonesia.  But from what I saw, Indonesia doesn’t do big cities that well.  City planning isn’t there forte, and there aren’t a lot of green spaces or sidewalks, etc.  But you can’t live somewhere for 10 months without it growing on you, and I was crying boarding the plane out of Palembang (and headed to Bali!  You shouldn’t cry when you go to Bali!)  Palembang was what it was in such a big part though because of the people I met (as any place is really).  I lucked out to the EXTREME with getting a neighbor (RIGHT across from me) that was my age, a single girl, and so similar to me in so many ways.  This is, of course, Daniela, my neighbor from Malaysia, who was studying medicine in Palembang.  A foreigner, like me, we had a lot in common—although Malayu being so similar to Indonesian, she was way ahead of me on the language front (which was very useful!).  She was there for me from the beginning, taking me to the mall to buy a big fan, a printer, and a water gallon which we transported in her car.  She helped me battle a rat, she drove me places when the ojeks failed me, or when it was raining too hard to be on a motorcycle.  She invited me to her home in Kuala Lumpur, which was SUCH a cool experience.  Malaysia was such a diverse, interesting place.  She invited me into her circle of friends—Malaysian medical students—and included me in get-togethers they  had.  But most of all, she was someone to talk to about anything and everything. She had lived in Australia, the U.K., and now Indonesia, so she was a fellow traveler—someone who wouldn’t be happy being stuck in one place.  It’s hard to find such good friends just anywhere, especially when you land in a place like Palembang!  But there she was, right across the driveway from me!  She and two other friends came to the airport to say goodbye, along with my counterpart, Pak Herizal, his wife and their two daughters.  It was really hard to say goodbye, but I know I’ll see her again—two travelers are bound to meet again, but in what country?!

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Besides Danie, I did make some great other friends that helped keep me sane.  My first friend really was a girl named Femmy, a radio DJ in Palembang who spoke amazing English and introduced me to the radio gang.  The two Fulbright ETAs, Dustin and Annalisa, were my go-to American buds who also became good friends with Femmy and the radio-ers.  We found a house of English teachers working for English First, and Megan, Hafiza, and Amy (and then later Sarita and Beth) were great to hang out with and spend time with.  It’s funny how a lot of native English speakers find each other—an Indonesian man I met at my school within the first week told me he had an English guy coming to teach soon and suggested we be his friend, so that’s how I met Calum, who was another great person to wander around Palembang with.  I met an awesome girl, Diana, who worked for the Governor of South Sumatra as his MC, and she ran a coffee warung—amazing!  I was annoyed I met her so late in my time in Palembang, but she was so fun to know as well.  I had another great neighbor, Kiky, who was my age with a one year old boy, and she and her husband helped me out a lot too.  They took me to the store at the beginning to help me get groceries, and her husband took me to work a few times when my ojek fell through.  I got to attend their son’s first birthday party, which was quite the to-do, and really fun.

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Me & lovely Hafiza with our grilled corn

Also, my counterpart, Pak Herizal, and his family were such a wonderful family to meet.  They picked me up from the airport when I arrived in Indonesia from the U.S., invited me to have meals at their house, invited me to weddings, and brought me to the airport when I left (among many other things!).  They were so welcoming, and such a kind, fun family.  They all spoke English well, and Pak Herizal was my colleague at school, who helped me with everything there.  I owe them a big thanks as well.  I hope one day they can come here so I can show them such hospitality!

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ELF Friends

I don’t think there could have been a more perfect group of us Indonesia English Language Fellows.  Most countries only have a few Fellows, but Indonesia had 20! We had a two week orientation in Bandung and Jakarta, and after those two weeks, it was pretty clear how much we had bonded and how well we got along.  I remember having this conversation several times throughout the year, “Isn’t it so weird that we all get along and truly like each other?”  “I know, I genuinely like every person in this group! Crazy!”  Twenty people, all different ages, with different backgrounds, and very different personalities, and yet it was like a family.  We were all spread across the country, and yet we took every opportunity we had to hang out and support each other.  We had a facebook group where we could vent or ask questions or share resources and materials.  These are people I plan on being friends with for a really good time.  I even remember saying to one of them, Autumn, in October (very early on!), Autumn, I want to be friends with you in 30 years, and visit your house!  We had a final farewell together in Bali, a bunch of the girls anyway, and we even made a pact to be friends forever~ just like we were 10 years old again!  I think most importantly, these are the only people out there who know what my year was and who can understand how important it was.  We even have a reunion planned in August to get together again! (Unfortunately not all can make it, but I’m so excited to see them again in the U.S.!)

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The ELF crew, but missing important Iris!

Forever friends in Bali

Forever friends

I think all in all, the main reason I love traveling is the people you meet along the way.  From my time abroad in different places, I’ve met such wonderful people, many of whom I am still close to, even if we don’t see each other that often.

Another reason I love traveling so much is the feeling of enjoying even the littlest things…

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

All these reasons are why I know Indonesia isn’t my last big adventure….

Conclusion:

“How was Indonesia?”

Short Answer: Amazing.

Long Answer: Refer to Handacrossthewater.wordpress.com please….

P.S. I’m sad this is my last blog, but I don’t think life in Washington D.C. will be nearly as noteworthy as life in Palembang, Indonesia… but you never know!

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South Park Hijabs Gone Viral

Two weeks ago, I was in the canteen area of my school, IAIN, buying some avocado juice.  A lot of students were sitting there, eating their lunch.  I noticed one girl sitting with her friends and did a double take.  I had actually seen this scarf before at the mall, but I noticed she was wearing a South Park hijab.  I laughed out loud, because for any of you who haven’t seen the show (maybe my Indonesian readers), it is an incredibly crude, (Funny), but pretty offensive show.  Many people argue though, that it is disrespectful to EVERYONE, not only certain groups (so that makes it okay).  South Park is known for mocking every group, from scientologists, to Mormons, to red-heads, to Christians, Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, gay people, etc. (You get the idea).  They are over the top offensive, yet hilarious.  Sometimes I can’t even handle it though.

SO, when I saw this girl wearing a South Park hijab, I thought it was hilarious!  I mean, the hijab is a symbol of modesty and of the woman’s devotion to Islam.  Granted, in Indonesia, they are as much a fashion accessory as anything.  The shops stocking the brightly colored scarves are numerous, and I often stop to look at the beautiful designs, colors, and patterns (I have a scarf problem).

I decided I needed a picture, it was just too good.  So I walked up to the girl and told her I liked her hijab, and I asked if I could take a photo.  She smiled and nodded, so I took one with her killer smile.  Afterwards I asked her, “Anda tahu orang ini”?  (Probably incorrect, but attempt at:  Do you know these people? while pointing to the characters?)  I asked if she had seen the TV show, and she shook her head, no.  I wasn’t surprised; of course she hadn’t seen it!  I am sure the Indonesian government wouldn’t allow that show in here.  (Especially with its famous portrayal of the prophet Muhammad.)

south park hijab original

So I snapped a photo, thanked here, and of course, uploaded it to Facebook.  A few of my friends “shared” it, meaning they posted it on their own Facebook, and so it drifted across the Internet.

The next day, my friend Autumn posted a link to a popular website that shows funny photos, and my picture had made it on there somehow!

http://imgur.com/gallery/uk2sDJC

I was really surprised at first, and then I felt a little guilty, and I hoped that there wouldn’t be mean comments about this lovely girl.  But luckily most people reacted with amusement, not malice.

Some of my favorites:

“This is not in accordance with conventional expectations.”  (Thank you, Captain Obvious).

“That smile!! Made me smile and forget my horrid, shitty, soul killing life for a minute.”  (haha! Wow, dude!)

And then,

“Is that… is that allowed?”  (Of course!  As long as no one knows who the heck those little cartoon dudes are!)

Unfortunately, there were other sites that got hold of the photo and had comments that were less amused, more ignorant.  On MSN some idiot commented: “…Taken moments before being stoned to death by religious zealots….I feel terrible for these women and the conditions they have to live in.  Hard to believe in this day and age this goes on.”

What conditions? What exactly goes on?? People wearing hijabs??  Luckily there was a response:

 “I must have missed the part where you try to turn everything Muslim into evil murder. It shows the lighter part of this religion and yet there is always someone to try to bash something.”  (Thank God for sane people, even though she didn’t actually know who the characters were…)

I got kind of angry reading these ignorant comments (like the first one above), and I felt guilty because it was my photo.    However, I really do believe that often the stupidest, most ill-informed, bored, sad, people are the ones who sit behind their computer commenting on things they know nothing about, merely to try to get a rise out of people.  It also reminded me that there really are still so many ignorant, uninformed people in the “West” when it comes to understanding what Islam is and what it stands for.   And that is why I’m here.   Cross-cultural understanding.

After my viral experience, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, but hey, it’s a story.

BUT THEN, about a week later, I was hanging out in the food court of the mall (yes, that is my social life in Palembang), with my friends.  We were sitting near the escalator, so when people ascended, they popped right up by our table.  And I swear, while sitting there for about an hour, we saw 3 women with South Park hijabs and one woman with a South Park SHIRT!  (I think we frightened a few when I nudged my friends and we all stared…) I was so excited! I had decided to write a blog about it at this point, so I was trying to get my friends to take photos (with their nicer phones).  We snapped one but it was kind of blurry.  Then we went down to the basement and met some other friends in a restaurant and I spotted ANOTHER woman wearing one, so finally, my friend Hafiza suggested I just go ask for a photo with her.  So I did.  Then, we wandered by one of the many stalls, and I saw the scarves!  I modeled.  And I bought.

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I sometimes feel like I should explain how these dudes on the scarves are characters on a horribly offensive show, but luckily for them, I don’t possess such language skills.  So for now, I’ll just sport my new scarf…

 

me in South Park hijab

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