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Snapshots: Old San Juan

28 Oct

A fortunate series of events led me to unexpectedly spend last week in Puerto Rico. Much of the time was spent near the beach in Rio Mar. However, an excursion or two was taken to Old San Juan. After being in a city growing drearier by the day with cold, shorter days and an onslaught of dark jackets and mute layers head to toe, the burst of color and warmth Puerto Rico extended was much appreciated.

For today’s photo series we’ve got three things going on:

1. Beautiful landscapes and worn edifices at El Castillo de San Cristóbal

2. Colors in Old San Juan

3. An adorable girl feeding pigeons

A nice tie-in:

“Everyone seems to have a cousin there.”

This from one of the staff members at El Castillo de San Cristóbal  while commenting on the rich history and connection Puerto Ricans have with New York City. Oddly enough upon returning and attempting to catch up on news, right smack in the middle of NPR’s homepage was this article describing a nearby exhibit featuring photos of Puerto Rican life in New York City in the 1970s —something I’ll make a point of visiting this week.

Snapshots: Finding Fall

11 Oct

Last week I learned the meaning of “Indian Summer” which I had only heard referenced once before in an early episode of Mad Men. After a chilly start to fall, it suddenly warmed back up to the high 80s.  I was happy to wear shorts in what was likely the the last time I’ll be able to do so sans tights this year. This week we’re back to the 60s and high 50s and fall seems a little more present than it was. Being from Phoenix and spending the last two years in Java I’m excited to experience my first full-fledged fall (and just seasons in general again.) So I took advantage of afternoon and went searching for the signs of it with a stroll through Central Park and nearby areas. While most of the park was green, I was able to spot some of those autumn colors coming through.

Snapshots from THE Indonesian Wedding (part two)

14 May

My last post focused on the first part of wedding celebrations for my host sister. It featured photos from the Ijab which is the actual wedding ceremony. It is custom here for there to be two wedding receptions or pesta pernikahan. One is hosted by the groom’s parent’s and one is hosted by the bride’s parents. Sometimes these parties immediately follow the ceremony or are combined. In the case of my host sister and her now-husband, they chose to have the wedding receptions two months after the ceremony. So the festivities officially concluded this weekend. This post includes photos from the day of reception my host parents (the parents of the bride) held. Instead of holding the reception at our home, they choose to hold it at a local hall, likely because of the sheer number of guests they invited. The above photo of my host father is probably one of my favorite. He just looks like a boss donning his suit, which Indonesians rarely wear in the village. He also is kind of the man around town, well respected and a local RW (sub-division village leader.) So it’s kind of a big deal that he is giving away his second and youngest daughter to be married.

The party was a hit, albeit hot and way more crowded, at times, than the picture above shows. My host brother-in-law (not the newlywed one) later commented that they should have had a bigger place for the 1,200 plus guests that ended up showing up. The crazy thing was even after the party was over and we returned home, more people showed up at our house to give their congratulations. This once again sent everyone around in a frenzy to cater to the guests offering them food and entertaining them. (I’m not sure if you can beat Indonesian hospitality, or at least that of my host family’s.) After it all, the rambunctious place that my home had become was silent again. Everyone had passed out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as tired as I did between the events of this weekend and the event back in March.

All in all it was a great weekend. I was happy that I got to be part of the wedding celebrations, including the wedding party with my matching seragam (uniform).

Photo of the whole wedding party taken by a member of the wedding photography crew. I’m second from the end on the right.

Snapshots from THE Indonesian Wedding (part one)

13 May

The bride and groomAs I approach the finish line of my service, it was fitting that this weekend was spent basked in celebration with my host family and community members for my host sister’s wedding party. Weddings are typically a business matter for my host family rather than a personal matter.  My host mother is a stylist and my host brother-in-law is a wedding decorator and coordinator. They work together and partner up with local caterers and photographers to meet the matrimonial and celebrational needs in the community. I’ve been to quite a few weddings and have even posted about it before. Though, this was a different ordeal because it was personal.

All the stops were pulled out to make it a memorable event. It started with the wedding ceremony back in March, known as Ijab, which this post focuses on. My next post will include the photos from the wedding reception held this weekend.  I’ve written a little bit about the ceremony in between photos, and as usual you can also mouse over the photos for captions. To learn more about Muslim wedding practices you can look here. Though, from my experience, the many Islamic practices carried out here seems to always be masterfully blended with the long-running traditional Javanese/Madurese/Indonesian culture to form a completely unique to Java practice.

Our front yard was transformed overnight into a wedding hall with tents, tarps, carpets and draped cloth. A band comprising of mostly percussion instruments is ready to get it started. The crew, composed of neighbors who’ve been working around the clock, takes a quick break before guests arrive.

When guests do arrive, as is custom the men and women occupy different areas. The men sit outside under the tent. The women sit inside lining the walls of the room. Celebratory flowers, cakes and gifts sprawl across the floor.

The bride and groom take their positions beside each other with the bride’s veil draped over both of them. Both the bride and groom are adorned in jasmine which smells incredible. They wear a splendid mash-up of Javanese, Muslim and modern formal attire.

After the vows and signing the documents, the groom gives the bride a ring and gifts. From what I understand of how my family practices there was no dowry or bride price. Yet the gifts to the bride may have been a modern interpretation or custom along those lines. The gifts included practical items like nice toiletries, new undergarments (Oh la la!) as well as jewelry and they were given from the groom and his family to the bride. Afterwards the newlywed couple goes around and individually greets everyone of their respective sex.

Following that everyone prays for the success, health and happiness of the new couple.

No Indonesian occasion would be complete without eating together.

And per custom, once everyone eats, they grab their snack boxes and head out.

Once most of the guests have left the photo shoot begins. Shortly thereafter everyone changes back into their house clothes and gets right back to work taking down decorations and cleaning up.

Snapshots from Tanjung Puting National Park

19 Apr

I just got back from a short trip I had been fantasizing about for a while. It was essentially the Disneyland Jungle Boat Cruise— but the real life version of it. My friends ElleJohn and I spent a few days voyaging down the Kumai and Sekonyer Rivers in Kalimantan, better known to most as Borneo. This is part of  the Tanjung Puting National Park, a conservation for the jungle and it’s inhabitants which includes orangutans. Through talking to a local guide we got wind that unfortunately bits of this area are still being sold off little by little to make room for more palm plantations. This is especially maddening?  saddening news after having the opportunity to visit a place like this.

Despite that if you’re into ecotourism it’s a worthwhile little adventure.  Here’s a few snippets:

(Mouse over for captions.)

Snapshots from iGLOW

3 Apr

iGLOW. I believe I’ve mentioned this in a post or two. It’s by far been the most exciting, stressful and encouraging thing I have worked on here, and last weekend it happened. I’ll give you more details in another post. But, for now I wanted to give you a little taste with my favorite pictures from that extended weekend camp. Enjoy (and mouse over for captions!)

Registration time!

Lined up and ready to go for the blindfolded obstacle course

One team member guides another through the blindfoldeded obstacle course

Bidding at the values auction

Snapshots from a karate competition

28 Jan

Yesterday my school hosted a karate competition. It was the first time they’ve hosted such an event and were able to do so with our fairly new sports hall. By all accounts it was a success. Roughly 80 participants from the local community came to spar from elementary school kids through the high school level. Having never been to a karate competition it was both exactly what I expected and also much better. What surprised me was how immersed in it I became, and likewise, how into it the entire audience was. Occasionally I’d seen students practicing Sunday afternoons, but it’s much different when they’re actually going head to head in competition. Watching the students maneuver attempting to get in a hit without opening themselves up to a potential blow had us all intermittently on the edge of our seats and cheering.












Snapshots: Making Jack-o-lanterns

2 Dec

Hey! I'm a jack-o-lantern!

We’re a little behind on our holidays. In part because many of my students and English club kids were busy the actual week of Halloween with other extracurriculars and preparing for—

I can’t even remember what it was now.

We did do in-class activities, but I was hoping to make jack-o-lanterns. Then I was away for a variety of reasons: dentist visits, a vacation to the Philippines, Thanksgiving celebrations with other volunteers…

Earlier this week students brought up the jack-o-lanterns again. They asked if we could still make them. Thrilled by the fact that the students were asking me to do this rather than me pushing it, we agreed to meet Sunday. The turnout was low… only four students showed. I was actually anticipating none because I assumed they would forget. Plans such as these always seem a little iffy to me. But lo and behold this morning the students showed up at my house. We went to school, made jack-o-lanterns and it made for a lovely Sunday morning. It was nice having only four students participate, I felt much more relaxed than if there had been more. It also made for much more personal interactions than class time or even English club allow. So here’s a few pics from this morning:

Love candid photos

Pumpkin guts!

Mengukir labu = carving the pumpkin

Lighting the candle for the jack-o-lantern

Take one

Take two

Snapshots from Idul Adha (Hari Qurban)

27 Oct


became this…

within a matter of hours earlier today.

Yesterday was Idul Adha or Hari Qurban. Though yesterday was pretty uneventful with only a prayer session. The real event was today…

Quick facts a la Wikipedia:

Screenshot of quick facts on Idul Adha from

This is my second year experiencing Idul Adha. I wrote about my first experience in this blog post from last year. I went easy on the graphic photos then. However, this year I find myself not only more desensitized, but also left with the feeling that you come here to see something different right? To see a glimpse of life in a different part of the world. Well, this is it. So here we go! (Mouse over for captions. Also I promise it’s not that bad. I’d like to think I was tasteful in shooting and choosing images.)


A few differences between this year and last year:

  • Last year I didn’t actually see the cows get killed. However, between then and now I had witnessed a goat get killed for a celebration my host family held back in March. Like I said, I felt more desensitized having seen it before. I think last year it would have been much more difficult to watch.
  • Last year the whole thing had me feeling rather somber. So it was hard to make sense of everyone else’s nonchalant and merry attitude. This year I understood and accepted it more. These things didn’t bother me as much. Perhaps a sign of how I’ve adapted?
  • Continuing on that note, I thought there was a certain peacefulness and respect in the way they killed the cow. Specifically I saw some students stroking the cow’s face to calm it as it was being tied up. I also liked how they said a prayer before, and while  the religion teacher cut its throat he covered it with a banana leaf, making the whole thing much less gory.
  • This year I actually ate some of the meat. It’s difficult to get over the images of a cow’s windpipe sticking out from its neck, the sound of pouring blood filling a ditch and not to mention the smell of it all. But after the fact I was able to shake it off, teach a class and meet with my co-teachers. Meanwhile back in the school kitchen staff and students were cookin’ up Nasi Rawon, a beef and rice stew. Enticed by the fact that this may be the freshest beef I ever have the opportunity to eat, I tried it. Always try something once right?

Snapshots from (a belated) International Peace Day

22 Sep

September 21 was International Peace Day. I didn’t teach class on Friday, but I did teach today. I also happened to have my co-teacher get sick. The lesson we had planned was dependent on her teaching past tense. So I ran with the opportunity to do an impromptu lesson on Peace Day with activities inspired/stolen from Taylor Rose

I briefed students on International Peace Day, we sang “Imagine” by John Lennon. (Confession: I actually used the Glee cover of his song, is that a sin?) Then I had them make signs of what peace is to them. They’ve got basic English skills so it was fun to see what they came up with or how they translated their meanings into English. Here’s some photos from that. If you want to see the complete albums you can check them out here and here.

Also though it has passed here’s 5 ways you can take action on International Peace Day from Huffington Post. It’s never too late to do something good!