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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Beauty and Race in Indonesia

I would like to preface this post by saying this is my very limited perspective.  From the perspective of a white, female, middle-class American.  This is my blog, it contains my thoughts and attitudes about things.  I am sure other people have other ideas and perspectives when it comes to such a complex topic.  That being said… here is what I think.

In a previous post I talked about conferences I’ve been involved with so far.  Another conference I participated in was one organized by my friend, Iris, at her university in Malang, on the island of Java.  She organized a Cross Cultural Communication Conference (C4).  Holly and I co-led a discussion/presentation about cultural perceptions of beauty.

This is discussion/topic has been the theme of many conversations I’ve had here in Indonesia with other foreigners.  It is a touchy subject, and I think being white in Indonesia has really made me think about ideas of beauty and how they intersect with race.

Upon coming to Indonesia, there were a lot of things that shocked me, that I didn’t understand, or that I found strange—maybe funny, maybe not.  One thing I got a lot when I started working was, “Miss you’re so beautiful!”  Now, who is going to complain about being told their beautiful all the time?  Not me!  But seriously, it does take you aback.  How are you supposed to answer that?  I always tell them that they are too (Because usually they are girls).  Now, my parents have been telling me I’m beautiful since I was little, so I do have some confidence in that department (unlike many girls in our beauty-obsessed culture).  BUT, the girls telling me how beautiful I am here, also usually have a remark about my lovely white skin, or my long nose.  YES, that’s right, telling me I have a long nose is a compliment here!  They say, “Miss, your nose is so long!”  But with their smiling faces, I know that they like the long nose look.  I try to tell them, in the United States, if someone told me my nose was long I would be ashamed or embarrassed!  It is not a good thing necessarily.  However, they like my long nose here, and again, who am I to complain?

But I’m going to complain, because not only my experiences, but through the experiences of other fellows, ETAs, and friends teaching in Indonesia, I have found that unfortunately the idea of whiter = more beautiful is so entrenched in Indonesian society (as well as other Asian countries).  This is not a news flash. This is not a new thought.  This has been researched, examined, and of course, taken advantage of by beauty products and ad campaigns.  It is almost impossible to find soap or lotion that doesn’t contain some whitening agents.

Lightening skin cream

Lightening skin cream

I have a few friends here in Palembang who teach for an English language school.  They’re three British girls, two are of Indian/African descent, and one is of Irish.  So clearly, the white one gets the most attention (which can be a good or bad thing, depending on your mood).  They all teach kids—from elementary to out of high school aged.  They told me a story over dinner one night about these flashcards they use to teach adjectives of description, where they’re teaching vocabulary: straight, wavy, or curly hair.  The flashcard has women of different color on it, and before one of my friends can even ask her students about the hair, they shout out, “she is pretty!” (pointing to the white girl), “She’s so ugly!” (pointing to the black girl.)  Of course, my friend tried to talk to them about it, asking them why, but it is just thought of as fact here.  White =beautiful.  Black = Ugly.  This didn’t just happen in one class, it happened in several.

The flashcard that students described.

The flashcard that students described.

Another story.  An ETA (English teaching Assistant) on the island of Lombok, had a similar situation teaching her high schoolers using large photographs sent by the U.S. Embassy portraying our multicultural country.  She was using the photographs to elicit conversation and language.  This is what she wrote in her blog:

“In a few pictures, to celebrate the diversity of America and all that jazz, there are black and white kids playing together, listening to a teacher read a story, or performing in a band. When I ask the students to describe these scenes, they point to the white girl and say, “She is white. She is beautiful. She has sexy lips,” and so on. Note: I did NOT teach them the word sexy and have tried to discourage its’ use in the past. Then, they point to the black girl. “She is negro. She is ugly. She is like Papua people.” In my last class today, the boys snickered, pointed at the black girl and said something in Sasak which Marisa sharply rebuked them for. It was obviously not a compliment.”

photo america photo america 2Here is a link to this ETA’s original blog:

http://irisinindonesia.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/miss-youre-so-beautiful/

Being an American (or British person) of color cannot be easy here.  My friends have to defend their “Americanness” when people say, no, you’re not American.  I was traveling with one of my friends here, who is Korean-American, when she was told (not asked) that she was Chinese.  No matter how many times she corrected the man, saying, No, “saya dari Amerika”, he kept insisting she was Chinese.  Now, granted, this guy was just a complete idiot, but there are so many people who cannot fathom that Americans aren’t all white blond or brunettes.  EVEN WHEN OUR PRESIDENT IS A MAN OF COLOR, it still seems to be an immense leap for some people to realize that not all Americans look like Taylor Swift.

I have heard from several other ETAs, some African-American, one Indian-American, about their host schools contacting Fulbright to request a white American for the next year.   Even though they had excellent relationships with their schools, and their students loved them, they couldn’t get over what a “real” American was supposed to look like.

One major discussion I have heard and had is whether or not this country is racist.  (I would like to ask which country isn’t racist.)  But I believe that yes, there is a great amount of racism at work here in Indonesia.  White (or light) skin is seen as more desirable, more beautiful.  The people of Papua (the furthest Eastern part of Indonesia), are much darker than other Indonesians and are very often the butt of jokes.  If you even say the word “Papua” there is a chorus of giggles and laughs.  Even when I taught describing places, and I gave my students examples of places they can describe: Jakarta, Bali, Papua… there are inevitable giggles when you say the word “Papua”.

Indonesia prides itself on being a tolerant, multicultural country.  In many ways it is, but there is still so much to improve.

All that being said, I am hesitant to portray myself as the ‘more educated Westerner’ who wants to teach Indonesia how to not be racist.  It does not require saying how racist the United States’ past is, and how racism still pervades our institutions and society.  No, it is not overt “She is ugly because she is black”, racism.  It is the racism that sees children of color in worse schools, in poorer neighborhoods, and African-American men being grossly over-represented in the country’s criminal justice system.  I know my country is not any better than others.  There is a lot of work to do across the world, but slowly and surely, things can and do change.

Posted in Observations | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Visiting Aceh

Last week, I visited the Western most part of Indonesia—Aceh province.  My friend, Josh, is the Fellow who was placed in Banda Aceh (the capital of Aceh), and another Fellow, Jen, and I went up to do a two-day seminar/workshop series on teaching reading.

Aceh is a fascinating place.  It was the one part of Indonesia the Dutch colonizers could not control; and once Indonesia became an independent country, the Acehnese separatist movement fought for independence from the rest of Indonesia.  There was still a civil war going on when the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami struck.  Over 170,000 Indonesians were killed or lost—Aceh was pummeled.  Following the devastating tsunami, a peace agreement was made between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government.  Part of that was that Aceh has been granted status as a special territory, not a province run through the Indonesian central government.  This allows them a certain amount of autonomy.  Aceh is the only region in Indonesia under Sharia law—Islamic law.  There is a religious police force, to enforce the Islamic laws.

Of course this is a seriously simplified version of what Aceh is, from someone who is clearly not an expert.  Knowing what I thought I knew before going to Aceh, I would say that I was a little bit apprehensive.  The idea of Sharia Law, the strict religious conservatism that exists in Aceh, made me wary of standing out.  I was told by Josh that Jen and I didn’t need to cover our heads; although if we had gone to a pesantren (an Islamic boarding school) where Josh has done a lot of outreach, we would have needed to.

I didn’t know what to expect, really, but I was very pleasantly surprised.  Flying into Aceh rivaled flying into the island of Flores.  It has a beautiful coastline, with mountains nearby, and it was an overcast day (my favorite).  Our drive from the airport to our hotel was really beautiful.  At one point, we passed a huge cemetery, and Josh told us that it was one of the Tsunami cemeteries. It was bizarre to be somewhere where such a tragic event had taken place not so long ago.

We had dinner that night at one of Josh’s favorite places—with typical Acehnese food—kind of a fried chicken with sautéed leaves (yes, leaves) around it.  The leaves were crispy and pretty tasty too! You kind of felt like you were foraging for food….not that foraging usually leads to fried chicken. (Unfortunately).

Foraging

Foraging, Jen looks scared.

We also got to meet one of Josh’s friends, Rina, who was one of the coolest women I’ve met in Indonesia. She works for the World Bank, and spent 5 years in Washington D.C., as well as a year in East Timor.

Lunch with Rina and her sister

Lunch with Rina and her sister

Some seriously bad avocado juice

Some seriously bad avocado juice

One thing I noticed that night, and then for the rest of our time there, was how everything shuts down at the call to prayer.   In Palembang, around 5pm you do hear the evening call to prayer—called the Maghrib, but people generally carry on with their business.  Yes, many do pray, but it isn’t necessarily an immediate, ‘must be in the mosque at this moment’ thing.  In Aceh, we were sitting in a restaurant, and the restaurant began shutting its door on us, while we were inside, in preparation for maghrib.  Apparently everyone had to be inside, praying, at that time.  Now, I understand that in Islam, maghrib is the time for the evening prayer, but I just wasn’t used to such a strict enforcement of it.  I was told that sometimes there are religious police who drive around to make sure people are in the mosque at this time.  I don’t want to seem like I am judging here; I am only observing a different atmosphere from the other parts of Indonesia I have traveled through.  Aceh is known for being much more religious, and it is actually where Islam entered Indonesia.  You have to schedule your day around the prayer times, instead of scheduling prayer times around your day.

Another thing I learned (although I think I had heard this before…) is that if a girl is on her period, she doesn’t have to pray, because she is “dirty”.  Hmmm, seems like an excuse I would have used a lot growing up.  “Sorry, mom, I can’t go to mass today… ya know…”

We arrived Saturday night, and had all day Sunday to hang out before doing some work on Monday and Tuesday.  So Sunday, Josh rented two motorcycles for him and Jen to drive (I rode), and we drove out to the beach.  It was a beautiful drive, and Josh pointed out some of the sights.  As we got closer to the beach, there were more tsunami-related sites.  We drove through a village that had Turkish flag symbols on the front of each house; the Turkish government had donated money and had an entire village rebuilt after it had been wiped out by the tsunami.  The mosque is still being built now.

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Driving to the Beach

Driving to the Beach

Jen driving like a bad***

Jen driving like a bad***

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Entrance to village rebuilt by Turkey

Entrance to village rebuilt by Turkey

One of the houses, with the Turkish flag

One of the houses, with the Turkish flag

The mosque, still under construction

The mosque, still under construction

The beach itself was beautiful. The waves were the strongest, most intense waves I’ve ever seen.  Even if I had worn my bathing suit, I don’t think I would have gotten in the water.  (Also, you don’t see too many people in bathing suits….I was surprised to see guys just running straight in fully clothed, jeans, t-shirts and all.) It was an overcast day, but there were still a number of people out.  A lot of younger people were there, boys and girls, who of course came by to have their photo taken with us.  Some asked, while others preferred the sneaky way of standing near us and posing without actually asking.  We decided to pose for our own photos while we were there.

Beach!

Beach!

Taking a photo of a girl who is taking a photo of US

Taking a photo of a girl who is taking a photo of US

Photo shoot

Photo shoot

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Monday and Tuesday we led workshops about teaching reading.  We led parallel sessions on Monday, and then on Tuesday we gave some short presentations.  The participants were really wonderful—they were really engaged and interested.  I met a few who had studied in the United States.  After the tsunami, there were more programs set up to benefit the Acehnese, so I met some Indonesian teachers who had studied in the US as well as an American guy who was the 4th or 5th on a program to come teach in Aceh.  Some of the participants came from villages hours away, and at least one even came from a remote island off the coast.

Workshopping

Workshopping

Jen giving a presentation

Jen giving a presentation

Representin

Representin

One night, Jen and I experienced a motorized becak!  I love taking becaks in Palembang (pedi-cab).  But in Aceh they were like big sidecars–attached to motorcycles.  It really is the only way to travel.

In our motorized becak

In our motorized becak

On our last night, we hung out with Rina again, and she took us shopping for oleh-oleh.  (souvenirs).  Another thing about Aceh–best oleh oleh!  Afterwards, we chased down the sunset.  We tried to get to the beach, but one of the roads was closed (possibly due to prayer time), but Rina found an amazing spot we could watch it set.

Sunset in Banda Aceh

Sunset in Banda Aceh

Josh, Rina, and Jen

Josh, Rina, and Jen

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Fishermen checking their nets

Fishermen checking their nets

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One thing that struck me as we met more people around Banda Aceh is that it was hard to meet anyone who hadn’t been affected.  There were so many stories of, “Oh yeah, his wife’s entire family was killed,” or “We thought we were going to die, so we all ran to the mosque…”  I can’t imagine what such an event must do to a community—or even larger, a whole region.

Aceh is such a distinct, unique part of Indonesia.  I’m really glad I was able to see it.   It’s a beautiful region.  After hearing stories and learning more about their history, it is clear that the Acehnese are nothing if not resilient.

Posted in Trips | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Being Profesh

As many of my blogs are about my travels and trips and sometimes day-to-day annoyances/observations, I thought I’d talk a bit about my more professional moments. (With a few asides).

Here, at my school—IAIN (Insitut Agama Islam Negeri- State Institute of Islamic Studies), I am known to the students and faculty as “Miss Dee”.  In Indonesia, people are called by their first name—sometimes they don’t have a last name.  But always with a term of respect before, “Pak, Ibu” or if you’re an English teacher “Mrs. or Mr.”   Most people on campus DO realize that I am a ‘Miss’, not a “mister”, so that is a victory in my book.

(Aside 1):  Speaking of Miss/Mrs/Mr., the other day, my colleague, Senior Fellow Michael Kelley came to IAIN to visit and gave a presentation.  The formality before any presentation is sometimes annoying.  There is so much pomp and circumstance for even a simple presentation.  So the Rector of IAIN (like a university president) gave a short speech before Michael spoke, and as usual, referred to me, being the Fellow at IAIN.  It was in Indonesian, and yet I caught “masih” and “sendiri” (still single) in there.  I thought he was explaining his use of “miss” instead of “mrs” (which is very important here).  I found out later from Michael (who is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia) that it was in fact, a joke about another teacher who is also, still single.  Very professional, no?

And yet, your marital status is fair game here.  It’s up for discussion.  It is a common question you are asked within minutes of meeting someone.   You quickly learn not to be offended by it (or you try).  People want you to be married.  I quickly assure people that 26 is ‘masih muda’ (still young) in the US, although here you’re practically an old maid.

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The Rector, next to my boss, Eran. This wasn’t the time he informed everyone I am still single, but you get the picture.

Senior Fellow Michael Kelley visiting IAIN

Senior Fellow Michael Kelley visiting IAIN

 

Back to being profesh.

My classes this semester are amazing.  All two of them.  (The others didn’t quite pan out)….

I’m teaching two Speaking 2 classes,  so my students are second semester, English Dept students.  This means that they are way more eager than my students from last semester who were too frightened to even talk to me about their weekend.  Because they’re speaking classes, the goal is (duh) speaking.  So doing drama activities is possible and having a loud, interactive class is a weekly occurrence.  Yippee!  However, it is a challenge sometimes with a class of around 40 students.  40 students having conversations can be rather deafening.

The rooms I teach in are in a new building, created for the English and Arabic departments, and each is equipped with an air conditioner AND an LCD projector.  However, (get this), actually having POWER to run these things is beyond the budget of this Institute.  Hmmmm…. (I’m not bitter. Okay just a little).  I leave my (AC’d) office in another building, and the fresh air is nice; I enter the classrooms of the building where I teach, and almost immediately, the sweat begins to drip.  I look around at the poor students, who all have fans out—or pieces of paper used as fans—and our weekly routine is to complain about how hot it is.

That being said, they’re troopers, and they don’t let it get them down.  This semester, I am happy to feel really energized by my classes.  We’ve done a lot of interactive activities, and I have a facebook group set up for each class where they can respond to questions I pose or submit their ‘homework’ (asking each other questions about the topic we are discussing).

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Some students showing off their timelines which they used to discuss past events in their lives.

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Students performing skits. I was playing the silent (except for some grunts) role of Frankenstein’s monster.

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Students acting out their midterm exam– a skit they wrote and performed for the class.

One of the group's midterm skit.  Best ending EVER.  "They all, cuddle.  End."

One of the group’s midterm skit. Best ending EVER. “They all, cuddle. End.”

 

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Most of one of my speaking classes.

 

A lot of what I’ve done these past eight months is present at conferences or helped run workshops.  (And I’ve got two more months to go!)  This makes me sound very professional, and it has been great experience for me.  When we started here, our boss told us it was ‘very hard to fail’ in Indonesia.  It’s pretty true—most people assume because you are a native speaker, you know best.  A lot of basics that we learn doing our Master’s are a bit revolutionary here.  The concept of student-centered teaching and using communicative activities to teach English are often not implemented in schools.  Students may be able to take a test in English and do okay, but often can’t have a real conversation.  Of course, this is the struggle of all language teaching outside the country where it is spoken.

One conference I attended (but didn’t present at), was here in Palembang.  Apparently I was asked, but I never got the message—I was obviously devastated. Ha.  But my boss—the Regional English Language Officer, Eran, was able to come and give a keynote speech.  The Governor of South Sumatra was a co-sponsor of the conference, and although he didn’t attend the conference, he invited the participants to his house (mansion) for dinner that evening.  It was a real swanky affair, and leading up to the big speeches and all, the native speakers (me, Eran, and three representatives from Pearson) posed for about a BILLION photos with the participants.  Oy.

(Aside 2)  One tradition that I had heard of in Indonesia, but haven’t (yet) been forced to participate in, is being asked to sing a song when at a gathering, wedding, conference, etc.  We were told at orientation (half-jokingly) to have a ‘go-to’ song in case you were suddenly thrust on stage.  I never paid much attention, I figured I could worm my way out of it if it ever happened.  Luckily it still hasn’t, but that night at the Governor’s house, it happened to my boss.  (And I’m sure not for the first time).  The governor made a long speech about how great he is, and also about English, and then he said, “I’d like to close, with a song.”  And he did.  He sang “what a wonderful world” by Louis Armstrong.  It was pretty amusing—mostly because he is the Governor!  Imagine some politician in the USA doing that!   He wasn’t half bad either.  So after that, the MC asked the other keynote speaker (from Pearson) to sing.  He was a British guy, and he sang…something. Can’t remember.  And of course, that left the other ‘big-wig’ –Eran.  Well, he totally blew the crowd away with a stirring rendition of “Yesterday” by the Beatles.  I was dying.   He’s a laid-back guy from California.  It was so funny to see him on stage singing his heart out, especially because he was really GOOD!  I was told by my friend Jon that when he was put in a similar situation, he sang the national anthem, and another Fellow, Michael, sang On Top of Spaghetti!  I don’t know what my go-to would be, but I guess I’ve only got two more months.  I think I’ll get through fine.

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The governor of South Sumatra. Before he wows us with “What a Wonderful World”

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Eran singing “yesterday” daaaaaayum well. (Also, notice the photo of him on the poster behind him, wearing the same shirt!)

I’ve been a keynote speaker at a conference on the island of Bangka, along with my friend Autumn.  Even typing that, (I’ve been a keynote speaker), I realize another thing my boss told us is true.  It is easy to get a big head in Indonesia.  It’s easy to think you’re awesome.  (I mean, obviously I am, but really.)  You walk down the street, and people look at you like you’re a movie star, they shout out hello.  They ask to have their photo with you.  (Not only young people, older people want their photo with you too).  They value your thoughts, opinions, and ideas (simply because you’re a native speaker).  For all they know, I don’t know the first thing about ___________, and yet they ask.  I’ve been asked to write a foreword for an Introductory Linguistics book.  Does it matter that I only studied Intro to Linguistics?  Nah.  I’ve been asked to edit an entire book of proceedings from an International conference.  (It is painful).  When I speak (or any of my colleagues/ friends speak), people think we have all the answers.  “How do I motivate my students?”  That is the most common question we get from Indonesian English teachers.   Coming to Indonesia has certainly been a confidence booster career-wise.  Leading professional development and presenting at conferences is something I would be much more nervous doing back in the US.  That being said, I do feel that often we do have a lot to offer teachers here, whether it’s just suggesting arranging a classroom differently or providing some useful activities to encourage speaking.   However, I know that there is much I can learn from some of the teachers I’ve met here.  I think it is easy to think the native speaker knows best, when in fact, teachers here have more to offer than they think.

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Cross Cultural Communication Conference in Malang with about half the Fellow group! (more on this later)

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Bein mega profesh

Keynoting it up in Bangka

Keynoting it up in Bangka

 

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Teacher workshop in Yogyakarta. Bad teacher on her cell phone in the background.haaa.

It has been a great eight months of growing professionally in a pretty low-stress environment.  Two more months to go, and in May I’m going to take a swing at planning a presentation/workshop at my school, since I’ve been jetting around the country to help at friends’ events.   Stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Embracing the “HELLO MISTER!”s

I was reflecting with my friends Tabitha and Holly while recently in Yogyakarta, about how blogs about all our incredible trips and experiences having fun by beaches are not nearly as interesting to folks back home as the random, day-to-day blogs.  Of course I love writing about how much fun I had traveling around Indonesia, but lots of people go on vacations—I am living here every day, having not nearly as carefree a life as my trips make it seem.  That being said, my life is incredibly low-stress, and actually, it’s really good.  Not to brag or anything…

On my way to school, I pass the hotel where I stayed the first week I was in Indonesia—before my orientation.  I was picked up from the airport, after two days of travel and many plane rides, and brought to Hotel Anugerah.  It is funny to consider how I felt when I was there, and how I feel now.  I wish I could go back and tell that girl hiding in her hotel room that Palembang isn’t as bad as it looks.  (Sorry to anyone from Palembang)!

Hotel Anugerah (and yes, I wonder if they placed me there for the McDonalds downstaris?

Hotel Anugerah (and yes, I wonder if they placed me there for the McDonalds downstaris?

My first impressions of Palembang were: busy, crowded, industrial, (a teensy bit smelly—although I might have been biased by the Lonely Planet I read before), and well, just completely foreign.  I have traveled a bit—I’ve been around Europe—more so the Eastern part, but this was the first place I visited where I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I was (am) hyper-aware of the stares, the nudges and pointing fingers, and of course, the calls of “hello mister!”  As I’ve said before, the feeling of being constantly watched, gawked at, and stared at, does not by any means make me feel unsafe (usually)—it’s more just an uncomfortable feeling that people are judging you by what they see.

Many people want to take their photo with me, which is something I found charming and fun at first, and now I have started wishing I wore a hijab so I could blend in more.   One time, I was running at Kambang Iwak last week (a pond/park with a track around it), and a 15-16 year old school girl stopped me, mid-run, sweaty, beet-red, panting, to request a photo.  Seriously?!  Sometimes I feel seriously annoyed and even to the point of completely ignoring people, but I guess it’s true what they say about exercise: those endorphins really do kick into gear and make you happier, so I gladly stopped running and took a sweaty, horrible picture with this girl.  Later on that same run, a boy started running alongside me, and asking me questions.  Again, sometimes I choose to ignore people (when I’m feeling grumpy), but I just took out my headphones and answered his many questions, “where are you from?” “Where do you live?” “How old are you?” etc.  It is nice to have someone to run with sometimes!

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It’s definitely not this crowded when I go running!

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Another time, my friend Calum and I decided to go the Pasar 16 (pasar is Indonesian for market)—this place is a humongous maze of stalls in a massive building alongside the Musi River.  It’s set up so you  go up and down to different floors, with each turn spitting you out in another area—Ibus (women) selling produce, clothes, Tupperware—basically anything you could want.  Calum was on the hunt for some shoes, realizing he was getting ripped off at the Malls, we went to the market.  This in itself is an experience.  It only took me 5 months to try it, but I don’t think I was brave enough at the beginning.  It’s knowingly throwing yourself into a situation where hundreds of people are around—hundreds of people who maybe have never seen an orang bule (white person).  We tried a few stalls and tried to haggle—Calum doesn’t like haggling—I love it.  I think it’s so fun when they realize you can speak enough Indonesian to not get ripped off.  And yet, there is still the possibility you are getting ripped off.  But we had wandered through a few different levels and areas of the huge market, and we came across three high school aged kids in uniforms watching us, and then one of the boys starts in great English, “Can I help you all with anything?  You might get a bad price because you’re white.”  We started talking to him, and he told us his English was good because he goes to this place called the Chit Chat Corner, where there are a few Westerners working who speak English with kids.  He and his two friends accompanied us to a few more spots in the market, and reassured us that Calum wasn’t getting ripped off.  They were really sweet, and it was fun to talk to them.  Afterwards, we went out to the main road and took the obligatory few photos with them.  Then we parted ways.  It is silly, but going to the largest market in Palembang felt like a huge accomplishment for me.  You know you’ve put yourself seriously far out of your comfort zone if going to a market is a big step.

Pasar 16 from afar

Pasar 16 from afar

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New friends helping Calum buy some shoes

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Pasar 16

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Our lovely guides

Our lovely guides

Another thing I was way too scared to try when I first arrived in Palembang is the ‘public transport’.  I should probably devote an entire blog to this subject…we’ll see.   The most hilarious, and the scariest form is the Bus Kota.  City bus.  My friend Femmy told me an American Fulbright ETA who was here a few years ago had dubbed it the “buskotequa”–like discotec.  That is because these old buses, which look like they are just another few miles from falling apart completely, blast crazy loud, thumping house music out of their speakers, and have young guys hanging out the back, yelling at passers-by to get on the bus.  They sound like a bad college party on wheels.   The guy’s job is to round up more people to ride this bus.  I had seen them all over the place, usually those guys hanging out the back yell at me, and I avoid eye contact.  However, I had never been brave enough to ride the buses, most importantly because I have no idea where they go.  There is no map, no route that I know of.  You just have to know.  Or ask.  But when I ask questions usually people respond way too quickly for me to understand.  So I’ve just avoided the buskotec.   UNTIL our market day.  I feel much braver when I am with other people, so Calum suggested we try to take one back to his school, even though he didn’t know if it went there.  Ridiculous as it may sound, taking a bus was actually a little nerve-racking.  My students and acquaintances here say, “Miss, don’t take the city buses!  They are dangerous. There are robbers.”  So, of course I got on clutching my bag, and made Calum shove over so I didn’t have to sit near any of those robbers they spoke of.  However, who’da thunk, the people on the bus seemed normal enough to me!  Just regular people going about their business.  Until a 3 piece band boarded and started singing to everyone.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t even live in reality.  Is this normal?  I mean, we have buskers on streets and they are on the NYC subway and stuff sometimes, so I guess it’s not that strange, but it’s still funny to me.

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Buscotec–although its ‘conductor’ (guy hanging out the back) was actually walking in front, trying to get passengers

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Serenading us on the bus

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Don’t forget the drumbeat

Sometimes getting off your butt and out of the house is the hardest thing—even in the US where there is much less to be nervous about.  Walking to the post office is another adventure I have had a few times now.  Again, in what universe should walking somewhere be a big deal?  Yet I tell people I walked from my house to the main post office near Ampera Bridge and they gasp, “why?!”  First off, it is bloody hot here.  I don’t care what they say, dry season, rainy season, it is just the same: flippin HOT. (I will regret those words when the dry season is upon us again and I can’t breathe).  So that means walking places is a little dumb.  Second, sidewalks are a rarity.  I always think of Kelly Clarkson’s song about straying too far from the sidewalk, and my step-dad’s hilarious  joke about how in our county (Floyd) we don’t have sidewalks so what then? (I think there was more to that joke…) Anyway, no sidewalks + INSANE driving on motorcycles, cars, and buscotecs means walking around Palembang is a little bit dangerous, not to mention, just not done.  People don’t walk much if they can help it. Most have motorcycles or use angkots, buses, etc.  However, sometimes you just feel like you need a walk.  So I walk to the post office.  If you are my facebook friend, you saw the stats of last week’s adventure:

And today on my 25 minute walk from home to the post office & back–the totals:
17 “Hello misterrrr!!”s
6 “hello miss!!”s
3 “how are youuu?!”s
2 “BULE!!”s
1 “what are you doing?!”
and a low show of just 1 “I LOVE YOU!!”

Some boys excited to see a foreigner. HELLO MISTER!

Some boys excited to see a foreigner. HELLO MISTER!

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Walking to the post office

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Some stares from the local becak drivers

So this is what walking places involves: you must be okay with the fact that everyone will be looking at you, and many of them will want to shout out to you.  Reflecting on it, this something I both LOVE and at times strongly dislike about Indonesia.  There is a need to call out and talk to you because you’re a foreigner.  I love it, because usually you can feel the warmth of the people, who are just so excited to be speaking to a foreigner, and when it’s a toothless old becak driver, it’s rather amusing and endearing.  Other times, it’s just frustrating if you want to walk down the street to be yelled at by a young guy on a bus, who actually looks like he is compelled to shout out “BULE” (pronounced boo-lay & meaning foreigner with white skin) when he sees you.  It’s like something comes over them, and they actually can’t keep that word inside.  We used to play a game on the high school band bus where we’d yell out “COW” every time we’d pass them.  Upon reflection, we were seriously lame; yet, that’s what it’s like sometimes here.  People just have to yell it out, or it’s not real or something!  An American friend here in Palembang suggested when people yell out “BULE!” (which technically could be construed as a negative word although I don’t think it is often meant so), that I should yell back “DI MANA?!”  (WHERE?!)  I’ve tried it a few times, and it seriously amuses me, and that’s all that matters anyway.

 I think this is all a matter of your attitude though; when I tell myself that I think it’s funny and amusing, it really and truly is funny and amusing.  But if I go outside thinking, “if anyone yells at me I’m just going to scowl”, then everyone will annoy me.

I do think I’ll miss the call of “hello mister”, because no matter what, that is just funny.  I am not worried that they think I’m a man, I know it’s just the only phrase they probably know in English.  However, that hasn’t stopped me from trying my friend Holly’s trick of yelling back to the man (it’s almost always a man) “HELLO IBU!”  (Hello Ma’am.)  That stumps em.

"Hello Mister!"

“Hello Mister!”

Posted in Day-to-day | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Gallivanting round the Gilis

Following Bali, Holly and I parted ways with Autumn, and caught a ferry to the Gili Islands.   The Gilis are these beautiful little islands off the coast of Lombok—there are 3 main ones; Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno.

The ferry dropped us on the beach—no harbor or anything, you just had to jump off the boat into the water and they passed luggage out in an assembly line type way.  The view was incredible.  You are on this island looking across the water to the island of Lombok, with its mountains right in front of you.

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These little droplets of heaven (Gili Islands) were INCREDIBLE.  First, there are no cars or motorcycles allowed on the islands, only horse-drawn buggies.  After being in traffic congested cities around Indonesia, this is such a luxury.  Gili T—the biggest one, is kind of like a mini-Bali in that it attracts loads of tourists and has a lot of Western food options.  However, they are Muslim islands, not Hindu, so you had to make sure you were respectful and not walking around in bikini, etc.  It was also strange to hear the call to prayer really loudly from our guesthouse, after not having heard it for a while in Tana Toraja or Bali.  It was kind of a signal we’d be back to reality soon enough.

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I’m now going to quote from my journal that I kept while there:

“Gili T was like a shock to the system.  It kind of felt like Spring Break in Cancun (but not quite so wild)—just loads of young, pretty people in swimsuits.”  There were so many tourists, and I guess it was what the beaches of Bali would be like perhaps.

Holly and I found western food again for dinner and ended up at an Irish bar called Tir na nog.  To be honest, it couldn’t qualify as all that Irish considering it was on a tropical island beach, with sand for the floor and the worst club music ever blasting out of the speakers.  HOWEVER, it was called Tir na nog, and so I was sold.  There was a massive dance party going on our first night, and it was like watching girls on spring break.  Very strange in Indonesia.  We talked to some people we had met earlier that day, aaand Holly and I MIGHT have danced on the table to Gangnam Style.  It was necessary.  No one else seemed to understand the importance of this song (except maybe the barmen).

The next day (Valentine’s Day!)  our wonderful friend Christen joined us!  She lives on Lombok, so it’s a short trip away for her.  We had a lovely day of relaxing on the beach, drinking banana juices, and lazing about basically.  For our romantic Valentine’s dinner, we had a bit of trouble finding a place to eat (or more honestly, a place with affordable wine and good seating), and when we finally found it, it began to rain.  But we didn’t let THAT stop us from having a great night.

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We of course ended up back at Tir na nog, where things were a bit calmer than the previous night.  We settled in at the bar and talked to our friends from the day before.  The barmen—cute, young Indonesian guys were pretty funny entertaining us.  One of them started making roses out of paper napkins and handing them to me from across the bar.  As it was Valentine’s Day, and I’m a complete sap, I totally ate it up.  Now don’t get me wrong, the kid looked about 18, so there was no hanky panky going on, but it was pretty funny.  Turned out he was 24, and when he found out I was 26, he didn’t hold in his shock, “wow! Old!! Ha ha!”  Hilarious!

Holly and I had another boogie to Gangnam Style, and Christen and I amused ourselves by talking to the flower-making barman.

Best Valentines dates I've had!

Best Valentines dates I’ve had!

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This romancer making my bouquet

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The next day we headed to Gili Air—a much calmer version of Gili T.  There weren’t as many people, but it was perfect.  We checked into a cute cottage (minus A/C) with an awesome outdoor bathroom (although it only spouted salt water).  We received a welcome coconut from the workers on the property.  We found the most amazing restaurant that made incredible bruschetta and we may or may not have had about 6 plates of it by the time we left.

I feel like my posts are all about food.  I can’t help it.  In Bali/Gilis our minds were dominated by thoughts of food.

We set up camp at this restaurant on loungey chairs, and some Paks came by selling sarongs and pearls, and we indulged AGAIN.

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This Pak was a pretty good salesman. He would end up with me & Holly both buying a sarong from him.

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I took the snorkel mask out a ways and saw a giant turtle—it was SOOOOOOO COOL! I followed him for a ways—it was SUCH an amazing sight.  It really made me want to try diving, but I just don’t want to fork over all that money!  And we needed more time to do something like that.  Snorkeling sufficed.  And sitting on the beach watching kids make boats was also pretty amusing.

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After our chill lovely sunny afternoon, Christen & I went to yoga and it was a great 1 ½ hours.  Felt good to do some exercise after a while!

We took a ferry off of Gili Air to go to Lombok (where Christen lives), and on the ferry ride across the sea—we saw a flippin CYCLONE in the distance!  Most of the other passengers were people from Lombok who just go to the Gilis for the day to work, and even they looked a little alarmed, but they told us not to worry.  Right!  Well, right as we got back to land, the heavens opened up.  Poor Christen had to drive her motorcycle back to Mataram (her city), while Holly and I got a taxi.

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The other passengers seem a bit concerned by that cyclone in the distance too

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CYCLONE!

these girls aren't worried about that cyclone

these girls aren’t worried about that cyclone

Lombok was really cool, although I haven’t seen as much as I should.  Christen and I explored one day, and I wore her insanely heavy, huge helmet—I felt like my head weighed 20 pounds.  It is always really interesting to see where other people live, and how their lives/cities compare to your own.  Mataram was much calmer than Palembang, and being so close to the beach is lovely.

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The helmet that weighs 25 pounds

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And alas, over a month of travel around Indonesia came to an end in Mataram, Lombok.

Indonesia is an incredibly beautiful, diverse country.  I’d completely recommend traveling here.  Do it!

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