Tag Archives: Culture

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: 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 Halal Bihalal

8 Sep

In East Java, the “most wonderful time of the year” has just passed. Ramadan and the following holiday, Idul Fitri or Hari Lebaran (or Eid-ul-Fitr or some variation of that in most parts of the world) is the equivalent to Christmastime in the U.S. The two celebrations/holiday seasons are far different but do share a few common threads…they’re the most significant religious holidays (respectively speaking), they disrupt the daily rhythm of life (though in different ways) and both tend to send people into a shopping frenzy on the brink of their concluding. So we’ve just gone through our version of that here, and things are pitter-pattering back to normal.

Ramadan in general was much more enjoyable than last year. It spurred deeper connections and observations into the Islamic faith and my community. It also made me rather sentimental during the last breaking of the fast, knowing it’d likely be my last time participating.  In addition to fasting, I also choose to go on the mudik, a jumble of nearly everyone on one of the world’s most densely populated islands hitting the road and heading to their hometowns to visit family and friends all at the same time. It was slightly chaotic.

Included in all this is Halal Bihalal. During Halal Bihalal you ask forgiveness from any former wrongdoings on your part towards that person with the phrase “Mohon maaf lahir dan batin” which roughly translates to “I’m apologizing from my heart and soul.” I’ve seen this said with the kind of sincerity it implies, but in many cases it came off less so.

Therefore the last few months have been pretty busy with the false start of school blending into the holidays, time off, holidays, celebrating, traveling around. I hadn’t captured quite as much of Ramadan as I had hoped to, but I’ll leave you with a few photos from the Halal Bihalal celebrations at my school with my school being my strongest tie to my community other than my host family.

Halal Bihalal is celebrated, as many things are in Indonesia in gathering together with family and friends, ceremony, prayer and food. Above are pictures from Halal Bihalal celebrated among teachers and staff the day before school resumed from the two week break. The photos below are from Halal Bihalal celebrated the next morning with students before lessons began.

Snapshots from Gelar Seni

24 May

This past weekend my school held a graduation celebration and arts showcase. Class time was occasionally repurposed and weeks and weeks had been spent in putting together this event.  The graduation was less of a ceremony and more of a representation since students will find out tomorrow whether or not they passed the National Exams and thus can graduate from high school. I’m told that oftentimes schools, including my own, have 100% passing rates. It’s also no secret that the National Exams are rife with cheating scandals to get student to pass. I assume here it’s no different, though from my observations my school seemed to follow the appropriate procedures from the district and whatnot in proctoring the exams.

The Purna Siswa and Gelar Seni event started around 6:30 p.m. though classically running on jam karet, most didn’t arrive until an hour or two later. The schedule was so far behind that the entire event wrapped around 1:30 a.m. I think it was originally supposed to end around 10 p.m. or possibly midnight at the very latest. I got home at 2 a.m. which is unthinkable here.

Each class contributed something to the show. Some did short dramas, some dance routines–both modern and traditional, student bands took to the stage. The conclusion was highly anticipated amongst the student population as there was a reggae guest band performing. (Go figure they are crazy about reggae here!)  It was great to see students perform and see how talented some of them are. Additionally I got to see a completely different side of their lives. Girls without jilbabs, some even sporting mini skirts and performing the most suggestive dance moves I’ve seen in a long time. Meanwhile I’m sitting next to my principal in shock. The boys attempted to mosh and skank but were tamed by nearby teachers acting as chaperones. I came away with a slightly different view of the teachers, students and community than notions I had had prior. Essentially that—not that I didn’t doubt this completely before, I just hadn’t seen it—they know how to loosen up and have a good time.

The iceberg and beauty queens

24 May

This was an entry I almost didn’t post. The reasoning being I thought I would have to be bashing my host country

Instead it became a perfect example of the iceberg.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The iceberg is one of the first things we discussed upon arriving in country. I want to say it was day two. During this prep/pep talk, our Director of Programming and Training Betsy Vegso asked us to make some observations about things we had heard or seen that were different. The call to prayer was new, the way people greeted each other was different, as was how people were dressed, etc., etc.   Being that we hardly left the hotel those first few days it was limited, but it helped prove the point. We were about to encounter a lot of things that were, well, different.

She explained that the things we experience and see are only what is happening above the water. We can’t begin to understand them without further inquiry and taking the time to do so. Every day we see the tip of the iceberg in Indonesia. Yet the bulk of why people do what they do is below the surface. This was our first lesson in cultural adaptation and an essential piece of the pie in living and working abroad. Try to observe without making a snap judgment of what’s below and the reason it’s there.

I forgot about the iceberg. It was lodged somewhere in the back of my head, but I was reminded of it last Tuesday.

My alarm clock had been set for precisely 2:55 a.m. Continue reading

Confession Sunday: 5.13.2012

13 May

I’m horrible with names.

It occurred to me the other day when my neighbor called after her three-year-old son to come home so she could give him a bath. He was playing with my four-year-old host niece in the living room. I was in my room reading, and I perked up. She repeated the name several times. Each time I kept thinking now I’ll finally know his name!  But I couldn’t make sense of what she was saying. Is that an “ei” sound or an “ae” sound. Does it end with a d, s, or an f? And then they went home.

I see this kid every day, and I don’t know his name.

I know his father’s because it’s both the word for dawn in Indonesian and Aladdin’s archenemy Jafar’s name jumbled– Fajar.  I know his brother’s because it’s the same as his father’s, and I can mispronounce his mother’s. But I can’t figure out what his little two-syllable name is.

No one was around, so I sat there. Embarrassed at myself.  Sadly this isn’t unusual.

I used to have what I thought was a clever way to handle this situation:

Illustration by Christie Young and published on Good.is.

I can make excuses like, welll…. they’re foreign names to me.

Or they’re names are so long! There’s too many syllables for my clumsy tongue to say that the same way every time I hand you back a graded assignment.

I can make excuses like well… Indonesian names don’t follow a familiar pattern in naming convention. No first name, middle name and family name. Perhaps they have one name or maybe they have like five. And then they go by some variation of it or grab a few syllables from each one and recombine it.

I can make excuses like even the name they tell me they go by, they don’t consistently go by. Sometimes Ibu Mei Lusyana Darawan is Ibu Mei or sometimes she’s Ibu Lusy. And no, she doesn’t have multiple personalities (that I know of.) Or sometimes my host sister, Ervin Vani Pemilia, is Mbak Vani which she told me to call her. Or sometimes, she is what most people call her, Mbak Lia.

*note: Ibu, Bapak, Mas and Mbak are all courtesy titles that are used much more commonly than in the U.S. Ibu= older woman, Bapak=older man, Mas=young man, Mbak=young woman. Adik is also commonly used to refer to friends and family younger than you that you consider like a younger brother or younger sister. In general these courtesy titles can be a great substitute for names also.

I can make excuses like they don’t use these real names on their Facebook accounts, which I originally hailed as my salvation to this name dilemna.  Rather, they use some sort of mash-up of their real name and a perceived alter ego or screen name such as: Haidar Rozzan ‘Rezpectorz’ or Princess Dyach Ayyueor or Vnous Putrifarahayuarianti’s Purplepurplelove  or Guntur Aremania CrazyLion or maybe even Uchauphaulfaceweberzodiakpisces Iiankiingindndridlu. All of those are students or friends on my Indonesian Facebook account.

I can make lots of excuses. But the truth is I’m just bad at learning and remembering names.

Nyepi — experiencing the Hindu New Year

11 Apr

Here’s what you need to know about Nyepi:

  • It’s the Hindu New Year.
  • The word Nyepi is derived from the word meaning “quiet” —makes sense considering the day is supposed to be spent in silence and introspection.
  • Going along with that, everything else on the island stops for 24 hours beginning at 6 a.m. The lights go off; people don’t speak, eat, drink or do a whole lot of anything. Even the airport shuts down, and if you are visiting Bali you aren’t permitted to leave hotel grounds. The only exception for activity on the island is reserved for emergency purposes. Though provided no one is doing anything, it would seem the risk for injury and illness is minimal.  There are even “religious police” that patrol the streets to enforce this. (Though it was tempting I didn’t test it.) The purpose of all this is two-fold:
    • It is meant to be cleansing for the body and mind, so you can start off the New Year right: fresh.
    • The second part has to do with the days preceding it. The Balinese Hindu create giant effigies, known as ogoh-ogoh, from wire, wood and foam. The day before Nyepi they carry these creations through town to scare evil spirits off the island.  They believe that once the evil spirits are scared away, they will return. When they come back, the island appears vacant because of the lack of activity and the evil spirits aren’t apparently interested in terrorizing a vacant island. So they go away leaving the island in peace and harmony once more.
  • Hence if you are going to visit Bali for Nyepi the real excitement is in the day before. The parades in Ubud were quite impressive but I hear Denpasar, the capitol, is where the biggest festivities are held.
  • That being said, the day off is a great time to take it easy and well, introspect.

So with all this in mind Continue reading

Snapshots from Nyepi and the Ubud temple celebration

31 Mar

Favorite photos from last week and a teaser for my next post where I’ll explain more about all these fantastical things and my vacation…

Reminder: mouse over for captions

A little more context: These photos are from two different religious events. The first of which was the anniversary of the main temple in Ubud, Bali. Celebrations are held annually to commemorate the consecration of varying temples according to the Hindu calendar which is shorter than the Gregorian calender that most of us go by. The second event was the Hindu New Year celebration, Nyepi. From what I can tell both are celebrated similarly in that families and the community join together to make offerings, pray and celebrate.

Hari Kemerdekaan, Ramadan and fasting

17 Aug

Today was Hari Kemerdekaan, Indonesian’s independence day. (Fun fact: Indonesia has been an indepedent nation since 1945.) Today’s festivities included a ceremony at school complete with marching, the raising of the flag, singing patriotic songs and an inspirational speech by our school’s vice principal. There was also supposedly a televised broadcast from Jakarta at 10 a.m. where some sort of proclamation was read. However, I missed out on that because my three-year-old host niece was absorbed in a lively episode of Teletubbies, and I didn’t have the heart to change the channel.

Other than that today was rather uneventful, which supposedly is not the norm. The reason independence day was relatively downplayed this year is due to the fact that we are in the midst of Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month. So all of the activities that would have occurred today were held during the previous few weeks and before Ramadan began. That just goes to show how big a role religion plays here in Indonesia. Ramadan took precendence over the independence day activities by pushing the usual celebrations to the fringes to accommodate for prayer and fasting.

So this Ramadan business, what’s that all about?

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic Calendar, which differs from the Gregorian Calender that most go by. Now I don’t want to get too into religion, especially because I know relatively little of Islam. However, being that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world (86% of the people here are Muslim and Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world) it is extremely pertinent to my experience here. So what I’m sharing here are just my understanding and experience of Ramadan so far, not any sort of commentary on it or Islam.

The dates Ramadan falls between change every year. This year it just so happened to coincide with August.  So we are just over halfway through Ramadan, which ends the 30th with Hari Raya or Idul Fitri.   (This is the largest Islamic clebration of the year, and we’ll get to that when the time comes.)

Ramadan is marked by fasting. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam which are central values and actions Muslims carry out in their faith.  During the entire month Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. This begins with waking up around 3 a.m. to take part in sahur, the morning meal, while it is still dark out and before the fast begins. Fasting includes not partaking ofeth food, nor drink (including water), nor smoking or chewing gum. I’ m also told that you should abstain from lying, succumbing to gossip, getting angry, and any other bad habits and behaviors. That’s not to say you can give into your whims any other time or once darkness falls, just that you are supposed to try especially hard not to do these things from sunrise to sunset. Those exempt from fasting are children, menstruating and pregnant women, and the sick. Occasionally, devout children will choose to fast for half of the day (from 4 a.m. to noon.)

As the day draws to a close, the parched and hungry population seems to perk up at the thought of it being almost time for berbuka, the meal that “breaks the fast.” As the sun sets, the daily call to prayer signals berbuka from the local mosque, radio or TV set and after 14-ish hours families sit down together to indulge a bit and break the fast.

The fasting is meant to cleanse the body and mind and ultimately grow deeper in a one”s faith in attempt to live it out and be a good person.  (I’m not sure why the ninth month is the month for fasting as opposed to any other month on the Islamic Calender, but when I ask I am simply told because that’s the rule. Or that’s the way it is. So if you know, let me know!) Fasting is also meant to allow a person to empathize with the less fortunate who actually go hungry and thirsty on a daily basis. When Ramadan concludes, I’m told people go to the mosque to give back to those less fortunate through food donations and more. They also at this time ask family and friends for forgiveness from past wrongdoings.

For the past two weeks I’ve been taking part in all this, including the whole waking up at 3 a.m. to eat thing. Promptly after eating I would return to bed, belly full, to try and sleep a few more hours before it was time for school. After two weeks, I’m throwing in the towel. Well, kind of.

I found the fasting part not to be too hard, especially so, when you avoid food altogether. Being thirsty was unfortunate and led me to cheat a bit with a few small sips from my water bottle behind closed doors.  The one thing that just really wasn’t jiving with me though was the whole not gettingt angry and being nice to people. That was asking a bit much because as we all know I’m a force to be reckoned with on your typical day. Actually not at all really. I did experience heightened grumpiness and lethargy due to having no energy because I wasn’t getting my immediate caloric needs met. But, the thing that really wasn’t working out was the disrupted sleep patterns, especially because I have yet to get my body into any sort of consistent circadian rhythm here.

Although everyone here has told me fasting is healthy for you, I’m not sure if I believe it. I feel the unhealthiest I’ve ever felt between groggy mornings, dehydration (we are in a tropical climate after all), less energy and oscillating between depriving my body all day then over-satiating it come meal time. Maybe that’s what it is supposed to feel like though. I’m not sure. So I sort of amended my fasting to mimic the children that fast for half days. I now sleep normal hours, and when I awake, I eat and then fast for the remainder of the day until berbuka. I just can’t keep up with the Indonesians, and nor am I obligated to. I simply was curious in experiencing and undertstanding the culture. To be honest, I also wanted to know if I could hack it and I think after two weeks I’ve sufficiently proven to myself that it is possible but not pleasant.  So that’s where I’m at, and that’s a small snipet of Ramadan for you.

And now, since it is Hari Kemerdekaan after all. I’d like to leave you with a few photos from an adorable children’s parade held a few week’s back to celebrate the country’s 66th birthday…

…except not really because the internet is too slow at the moment, photos coming soon..

Update: Here’s those photos. I think despite the fact that the childers look absolutely terrified, they are all very imut, or cute!

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29 Jul

It turns out an unresolved issue deciphering my right from my left, coupled with a surprising lack of coordination served me well during a marching competition of sorts. On Wednesday I “marched” five kilometers with four other teachers down the main road of our town while standers-by pointed, stared, laughed and snapped up plenty of photos and videos to commemorate the day I lost my dignity and self-respect in a bright yellow track suit. Being the optimist that I am, I’m hoping my willingness to publically humiliate myself will earn me a little street cred. Some may argue it possibly had the adverse effect…

School has been in session for a few weeks now, but a predictable and consistent schedule has yet to be established.  This is primarily because, well, things are just different here. However, there are several other contributing factors including:

  • There is a current lack of classrooms for the number of students. This splits up the school day. Some students attend class in the morning and some attend class in the afternoon. So I’m expected to come to school at different times on different days.
  • Ramadan is about to begin. This means what schedule there was is about to change. During Ramadan Muslims fast, have increased prayer activity, and odd hours of sleep. So classes are cut shorter to compensate.
  • Lastly, special events for the upcoming Hari Kemerdekaan (Indonesia’s Independece Day), like this marching competition, can take priority over class time.

So, I’m still trying to figure out how things work around here. It doesn’t seem like I’m any closer to understanding anytime soon. Although several teachers speak decent English and my Bahasa Indonesia is, of course, stellar, there are still many times when I just don’t know what’s going on. Ok?

As a new teacher, I’m eager to do a good job.  Part of this is wanting to be involved with my school and my students. So when a teacher mentioned there was some sort of school walk I could participate in, I said sure. I had no idea what I had signed up for. I didn’t know it was competitive in nature until the night before. I didn’t know it was in the middle of the afternoon when the unrelenting sun and humidity are the least tolerable. And I didn’t know I’d be “marching.”  I thought it was just some casual walk-a-thon thing.

It wasn’t. It was Gerak Jalan, or Indonesian marching, which I deem to be less marching and more of a structured walking.

Indonesians learn how to walk with structure from a young age.  They begin Gerak Jalan in grade school to learn discipline and to take part in the Upcara Bandera, the Monday flag raising ceremony that kicks off the school week.

Hence most Indonesians know how to walk  with structure well. They alternate their left arm with the right foot’s step and their right arm with the left foot’s step with ease while keeping pace with their peers. Apparently this doesn’t come natural to some.

Case in point, I’ve posted a video below from a practice session held earlier that day. A kind teacher took it upon himself to upload it to Youtube with the title Bagong, the Indonesian word for puppet, and the description indicating “teacher fails.” Please take note of the hysteria I send the teachers into as they double over in laughter and my obvious dismay and confusion. One teacher was crying, and I’m almost positive another came close to peeing his or her pants. I won’t name names.  Enjoy…

The actual competition went somewhat similarly to this, or at least it felt that way. It also had the added bonus of being painstackingly long. This was especially so, when we had to stop every few minutes to make sure I was ok and get our steps back in sync. Half the time I had a teacher walking several feet in front of me coaching me to “stop thinking, stop thinking…just walking, just keep walking.” It is true. I was rather focused. I haven’t concentrated so hard on walking since I was of a toddling age.  Regardless, I survived all this…the heat, the ridicule, the track suit… and I’d like to think I came out stronger because of it. That and I have a new quest…to redeem myself next year.

At the starting line.