Tag Archives: holidays

Simultaneously speeding up and winding down

15 Jan

It seems about that time… for an update. A real one.

In the beginning there was so much I wanted to share, but not enough time to be writing blogs all day. I had to experience it!

Likewise, I found it hard to keep up with all the places my overstimulated mind was racing. So I tried for a post once a week.  Then things slowed and starting sinking in a little deeper. The things I wanted to share were more complex, difficult to summarize. Blog posts didn’t seem as appropriate of a format.  So despite a few exceptions I tried to keep you entertained with more pretty photos and short bits and pieces here and there. So now where are we in the life of this blog? I’m trying to keep it alive because if nothing else it forces me to continue documenting this experience. It forces me to continue writing and taking photos. It forces me to continue evaluating what’s interesting and worth sharing here, and what’s going on in my world.

So what’s going on in my world?

Well weather-wise we’re in the midst of rainy season, where nearly everyday we are blessed with a shower that varies both in duration and strength. Being from Arizona, where rain is infrequent, I absolutely love it. It reminds me of the monsoon season but pretty much every day. This also means I feel a bit more “PC” in my day to day life as power outages are much more frequent. This causes me to always be on guard for the next blackout with my headlamp in position and ready-to-go, much to my host family’s amusement.

And because Oscar Wilde once said “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” I’m not going to linger there…


The second semester of school started last Monday after an official two-week break. (Which was basically an unofficial month-long break.) And I have to say, the seven days following it have probably been my most productive in terms of work. Every day I’ve come home with a true sense of accomplishment and also fairly tired. This sort of productivity was not fathomable to me last year. To give you an idea of what an “accomplishment” is at this point:

  • It’s my counterparts taking turns to write down our weekly lesson plans that are being saved, printed and stored in a binder to be used again or adapted next year. (Yes, it took a year and a half for this to happen. Previous documentation of what happened every day in class was spotty.)
  • It’s a counterpart showing up to school with a worksheet she created herself and not some shoddy thing found online.
  • It’s my counterparts writing the daily agenda on the board so students know what they can expect to do that day in class, and there is no confusion over whether or not there was homework.
  • It’s my counterparts more frequently stepping up and out of their comfort zones with methods and activities that both they and the students desire, but that was previously left up to me to implement.

Overall it’s me letting go of the reins and consequentially not feeling as needed. It’s a sort of bittersweet moment in sustainability. It’s not over, but it’s currently leading me to feeling much more fulfilled.  It’s also motivating me to really follow through with this and finish what I’ve started. I’m now a little more freed up to focus more attention to other projects. One of which that I’m extremely excited about, is a girl’s leadership camp to be held in March. It’s dubbed iGlow (Indonesian Girls Leading Our World), and it’s an expansion of what a few volunteers started last year. More on that later.


I think some were slightly concerned after I posted this little bit about some dental issues. After several sporadic, cancelled and re-scheduled appointments it has all been resolved. The grand total of my cavities came to four. It was a hell of a lot better than nearly all of my teeth having cavities. Even better news was that they were relatively small. So small in fact, that the dentist didn’t use any anesthetics. (To tell you the truth I didn’t even know people needed that for fillings. I also didn’t know they actually drilled into your teeth, and I’m glad I didn’t know that beforehand.)


I mentioned earlier last month that I was contemplating going off Facebook. Whether this is unthinkable for you, or you could really care less, I did it. I’m off Facebook, minimally for a month. I figured it’d be a fresh way to start off the new year. I’ve also gone back and forth about the pros and cons of social media for quite some time. (See links below) It really is a love-hate relationship. That’s why for the time being I am OK with our separation, but I know we’ll inevitably be together again.


  • The IRL Fetish by Nathan Jurgenson of The New Inquiry
  • An  interview with the author of a new book on how we expect more from technology and less from each other

Vacations and travel

Due to those dentist appointments, iGlow meetings and other semi-official business I’ve spent a lot of time in Surabaya recently. It sufficed as a home base as I bounced all around East Java between trips, and it was a destination in and of itself for Christmas.

All that bouncing around led me to some familiar places and slightly beyond to some new ones.

For the second year in a row I accompanied teachers and the twelfth grade class on a study tour to Jogja. I spent 35 hours on a bus within a 65 hour period. If that doesn’t deserve some sort of badge or ribbon I don’t know what does. This especially considering five of those hours were spent stationary, on the side of the road, in the wee hours of the morning, holding my bladder and dozing in and out of uncomfortable sleep while a small group of teachers backtracked to retrieve a student who had accidentally been left behind.

Other trips went more smoothly.

I did a rafting trip in Probolinggo, spent Christmas at the Sheraton in Surabaya (a vacation in and of itself), made my way to the isolated Meru Betiri National Park in Banyuwangi to see sea turtles, then ventured on over to Lombok and the infamous Gili islands for New Years.

I had equal parts adventure and luxury. I walked barefoot in the pouring rain for five kilometers through the jungle. (Yes, I now have one of those stories to tell my grandchildren.) We were drenched, my sandals had broken (hence the bare feet), my cell phone died due to the downpour, and we even got snarled at by a wild boar.

The luxury end of that spectrum was just days prior when I indulged to an uncomfortable level at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on Christmas Eve at the Sheraton. It was a splurge at $14 U.S. It may have been steep enough to deter others from the group I was staying with not to ikut,  but I couldn’t pass up toast with butter (real butter) and marmalade;  cornflakes with honey and topped with toasted almonds; blueberry yogurt with granola; french toast; mini-waffles with all those golden nooks and crevices; a cheese platter with feta, cheese, cheese, cheesecheesecheese!freshfruitplattersaladbarham and… shall I go on?  That morning I had awoken in the comfiest bed I’ve laid in in nearly two years, complete with a down comforter. The night before I had taken a hot shower. It was preceded by a hot bath. Because I COULD. Luxury indeed.

I realized two things during these travels: 1.) I am now more enthused and baffled by what once was normal (See the paragraph above) than anything that once was exotic when I arrived. 2.) I sometimes forget how lucky I am.

This first point I realized during that buffet and also when I arrived in the Gilis where it was confirmed that variations in cuisine do exist.  One day a burger and fries, the next day Indian food, the next day Italian… I was a very, very happy girl.

I have yet, though, to get some good Mexican food in me.

The second part I realized on my last day as I was riding a boat back to Lombok from the Gilis with several Australians, other Americans and mostly Indonesians. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country with endless travel opportunities and adventure if you’ve got the time and money. Which fortunately I have one of those things. (Guess which one it is based off my comments on the $14 U.S. buffet)

Beyond PC

Ah yes. The question everyone wants to know. “What are you doing after this?” I’ve had this conversation with probably almost every person I’ve been in touch with in the last month. The answer… to be determined. I have several more solid ideas now than I did a few months back. It’s become evident to me that I’m ready for a new challenge, yet what that entails is not entirely clear yet.


I’ve slacked off in the photo department more recently. I’ve been relying much more frequently on my point-and-shoot and photos from friends, which you can enjoy below. (They’re in no particular order and you can roll over for captions.)

In conclusion of this hodge-podge post…

… as time is running out, things are simultaneously speeding up and winding down. I’ve got about five months left, a lot of work to keep me busy, but also a determination to enjoy it.

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 Wikipedia.org.

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 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.

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.

Turning 24, technology and St. Patrick’s Day

18 Mar

Reminder: scroll over photos for captions. Also here’s a dorky video message from me.

I love my birthday, if for nothing else than the fact that everyone wears my favorite color! My birthday is St. Patrick’s Day.

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s day in Indonesia (it’s unsurprisingly not celebrated here.) I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes as my host family, tipped off by the sound of my door opening, rushed to salam (greet) me. For reasons we shall not reiterate, after breakfast my host mother handed me a basket with my clean, folded clothes. As I began hanging them, I found a box hidden amongst them. My host family gave me a surprise present! (I’m wearing one of those gifts in the video I linked to above.) Though my favorite part was the handwritten note in broken English wishing me a good day despite being away from my friends and family and more warm wishes from my new family.  Cue the “awwww….”

Teachers and students both wished me happy birthday in person and via text. Some knew it was my birthday, others were informed after logging into Facebook. It was a nice and simple birthday. Oddly enough, I preferred to spend much of it alone. I’ve been doing a great deal of reflecting these past few months as I approach my one year in-country and 24th birthday. The outcomes of these ruminations I’ll be sharing soon…

Back home, family and friends are currently celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and my birthday due to the time difference. So in a way I’m still celebrating. First I “met up” with my dear friend Rachael. We had an exclusive (there were three of us) international teleconnected dance party, and she serenaded me an improvised 24th birthday song.

Then I “visited” my family, who had cake and ice cream in my honor. They sang happy birthday, I “blew out” the candles, and while they enjoyed my birthday cake, I ate saltines. My one complaint: they got the ice cream wrong. They got coffee and I like vanilla : )

Otherwise it was great. It was great to celebrate here. It was great to celebrate there. And it’s amazing that I was able to do that because of technology, specifically speaking– skype. In sync with all my reflecting, I’ve been thinking a lot about how dramatically technology is changing our lives. Not just for my birthday celebration, but in general and given this context.  My students here are addicted to Facebook and Twitter and have better phones than I currently have yet, many of their homes lack washing machines or other modern conveniences that would be considered commonplace back home. It baffles me. This experience could not have been the same just a few years ago…and again, these are thoughts I may choose to elaborate on another time.

…And speaking of technology, I’m experimenting with Storify so I’ll leave you with some fun stuff on St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy: View the story “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” on Storify
or just check it out here:

Continue reading

Confession Sunday 2.12.2012

12 Feb

I’m kind of, sort of excited about Valentine’s Day! This is a confession because usually I’m not the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day for the all-too-cliche reason of it just feels so forced and another holiday overrun by hallmark, candy companies, jewelers and the like. And though I won’t be doing much on Valentine’s Day 2012, I’m excited to share a little bit about the holiday with my classes, and I’m dreaming up fun activities for my English club as I type this.

In case you don’t know the origins of Valentine’s Day (or want a refresher), History.com gives a good little overview and some fun facts.

Also while putting together a little presentation on the holiday for my classes I came across these adorable vintage-style Valentine’s Day cards.

Is this one really complimentary?

All adorable Valentine’s cards courtesy of valart2008 via flickr.

Now tell me those don’t make you all warm and fuzzy inside and bring a smile to your face.

In other news I haven’t written a whole lot lately…two reasons I like to keep it interesting and I’ve begun getting into photography a little more lately (or rather just taking pictures more often trying to document my time here). Also sometimes I’m just at a loss for words, and I hope those photos can help in some small way share a little bit of my world with you.

ALSO here’s a fun little video of my class singing Bruno Mars’ “Just the way you are” in class this past week. We were learning about pronouns. Kind of goes along with the lovey dovey theme of this post ; )

Merry Christmas from Indonesia

25 Dec

Photo courtesy of Mukumbura via flickr.com.

Though it is currently 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit and 65 percent humidity, it is indeed Christmas day here in Surabaya. Christmas Eve was spent with a small group of volunteers eating cupcakes, brownies, candy canes and other Christmas goodies while hanging out in the lounge at the Peace Corps office. We turned up the a/c and cuddled up in the loft of the lounge, borrowed a projector and watched Christmas specials. It was sort of cute.

Indonesia is a predominately Muslim nation,  so no where else was nearly as decked out with Christmas decorations as the lounge was with Christmas cards, a few strings of lights, a humble Christmas tree and a small can of fake snow!

This morning we joined a few Peace Corps staff and several more volunteers at our Programming and Training Manager’s home to have a small Christmas celebration and “breakfast.”  I’m in sweets overload, and I can honestly say I have not had a real meal in over 24 hours because my meals have been supplemented by cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products and sweets. These things are hard to find, but they are available in the city. So this is typically the case when I escape to Surabaya for Peace Corps training, events and otherwise.

It was definitely not the traditional Christmas, and though it didn’t necessarily “feel” like Christmas it was nice. It’s inevitable to feel homesick when the internet and Facebook are flooded with Christmas-time images and messages of those celebrating back home. SOooo…in an attempt to combat the Christmas blues I’m off to Bali!

Have a Merry Christmas!

Photo courtesy of sektordua via flickr.com.

My first Thanksgiving away from home

6 Dec

Thanksgiving, turkey, turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, pie, pie, pie. Food! American food! And not just any American food but Thanksgiving food!!!!! This is all that was running through my head during Thanksgiving week because at the end of it I knew those things would be a reality in my very full stomach. When you cannot consume many of the foods you have grown quite fond of in eating them day in and day out for your entire life, it’s amazing just how amazing having even a brief encounter with them again can be. I nearly cried because I was so happy. Even as I write this now my stomach is groaning at the thought of the deliciousness I took part in. (Ok, it is possible part of that might be because it’s also lunchtime. Nope. I miss my American food.)

For my first Thanksgiving away from home I was pleased to spend it with a fine group of people, my friends and fellow volunteers.  We’d been invited to dine at the U.S. Consul General’s house in Surabaya.

It was a lovely little shindig.

This is how I know I’m in Peace Corps: we had to crawl through a fence to get into a gated neighborhood  and moments later we were being scanned through a metal detector to enter our hostess’ home. Once inside the atmosphere was similar to the Thanksgiving scene that often plays out across America this time of year. The sights, sounds, feel of it all and the foods. There was a grass lawn, warm lighting (not fluorescent), a tastefully decorated interior complete with a banquet table, red wine (a rare find in a country where alcohol consumption is more often than not taboo with the exception of Bali), I even saw a beagle! An adorable, clean beagle. (Dogs are also taboo in Islam and seen as unclean. More often than not the village dogs, cats, rats, etc fit into that profile.)

We ate, drank and were merry. I was appreciative of the gesture and it made being away from home for Thanksgiving for the first time less heartbreaking, and not only bearble, but enjoyable.

Unfortunately most of my photos ended up being of the food so this is the snapshot you get of our celebration in addition to the vivid images my words paint in your mind.

Due to the fact that I couldn’t keep Thanksgiving off my mind the week leading up to this, all my lessons centered around it. I gave a dandy little powerpoint presentation. It showed students pictures of the food, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the presidential pardon of the turkey and all that good stuff. I talked about how Americans like to take this time to not only gather together with family and friends but to reflect on all the things they are thankful for. Being the wonderful English teacher that I am now, we incorporated the language into our discussions. I facilitated questions and afterwards the students made turkeyhands and wrote about the things they were thankful for.

This was a winning moment for me. I was touched to see the students expressing themselves creatively (It doesn’t happen all too often, more on that another time) and better yet expressing themselves creatively in English.

Here are a few that I particularly enjoyed:

Once they created these we hung them up outside the classrooms so students could show off their work and read each others. I think my new goal is to try and make our classrooms look as much like a kindergarten classroom as possible.

Cutting the cow

6 Nov

As I sat surrounded by small piles of raw meat freshly carved from the still warm cow carcass, I took a minute to self-evaluate. This was my inner conversation:

“How’s it going? Is this cool with you? You OK sitting right here?”

“I mean, I guess. But now that I think of it, just the thought that I need to assess how I’m feeling about the current situation — and such a strange one at that — is kind of weirding me out. Oh, and the smell is bothering me too.”

“OK, time to move!”

Today was Idul Adha, another Islamic holiday. (Also referred to as Korban ’round these parts.) It was more low-key than the Idul Fitri celebrations were, but it was altogether intense in a completely different way. The occasion centers around the sacrifice of a cow or goat.

I’d been warned by another volunteer the day prior that what I would witness would not be pleasant. But then again, what can you expect when the description of an event is “potong sapi” or cutting the cow. It was just that.

I felt like a child equally intrigued and disgusted…the way you might step on snail and then exam it closely commenting “ewwwww” as you poke it with a stick. It was gross but fascinating. Not having grown up on a farm, I’ve only seen cows happily munching on grass or as pre-packaged hamburger meat (and thus not resembling an animal at all.) This event served to bridge the two images. From one angle the cow looked completely normal (except for the fact that it was lifeless.) From another angle it’s hide was being sliced back to reveal the fatty, bloody meat beneath. As I watched three cows being disassembled in the same place that we have school assemblies and our weekly flag ceremonies,  it gave way to one of those surreal moments that, yup, I’m in the Peace Corps. This is something I would never see at home. Even if I saw a cow being butchered, the chunks of the meat wouldn’t be prepared and  temporarily stored on blue and orange tarps in the middle of a dirt lot. The student council and teachers wouldn’t be chillin’ out preparing steaks like it’s nobody’s business, sitting crossed legged and barefoot near the remains of an animal that’s punched bladder is oozing urine. And the neighborhood kids wouldn’t be running around joyfully laughing and poking it’s hanging head with a stick. They’d be mortified. They’d probably even have nightmares.

This isn’t to say that Indonesians are all but immune to the grim fate of our fair cow, or cows rather.  When I asked my host sister this morning if she would be attending the day’s activities, she told me no. When I asked why, she said “takut sedih.” She was afraid she’d be sad and that she doesn’t like seeing an animal die. One of the neighborhood girls that was playing near the pop-up butcher shop told me she also choose not to be present when they killed the cow, inferring it would be too much…too sad.

So why kill a cow to celebrate? There’s other ways to celebrate like, oh, you know, baking a pie.

Well first of all,  It’s pretty rare for Indonesian families to eat beef or goat meat. It’s more expensive and there’s more meat than can typically be consumed before it goes bad. So it’s usually saved for special occasions and shared. There’s obviously some symbolism going on here, but aside from that this is also an act of charity. The students and teachers at my school (unbeknownst to me until today) had all contributed money to purchase the cows. Then a select few attended today to help prepare the meat and distribute it to families living near the school. This happens every year  at schools, mosques and what I assume are other community centers. It is both a way of giving thanks for a prosperous year, giving back to the community and hopefully earning a little karma.

Though I didn’t actually see the cow get killed, I saw just about everything else. Every part of the cow was used. The meat and organs would become the centerpieces for traditional meals. The bones, skull, etc would be chopped up into smaller pieces and later used to make broth. And the hide, which can be made into giant drums used at the mosques, became payment to the butcher who lent his time and skills. Each hide is worth about $350,000 Rupiah which comes out to around $42 U.S. dollars give or take. So that’s a pretty hefty payment for three hides considering an English textbook costing $20,000 Rupiah is considered expensive for many families.

My new friends I made today. They're silly.

Update: Just wanted to share some photos of Idul Adha (or Eid-al-Adha, as it’s more commonly referred to) being celebrated all around the world from The Boston Globe’s Big Picture Blog.