Tag Archives: Indonesia

One week left!

27 May

How does it feel to wake up with only one week left in my Peace Corps service?

Click here to find out

I can hardly contain myself. I’m absolutely giddy, and at any moment I could be on the brink of tears.

Suddenly I feel so free, nothing matters. All of the little things that concern me, stress me, bother me…in a week they’ll all be gone.
Yet at the same time EVERYTHING matters. The time is so limited.  Because of that, all of the things that I have come to appreciate and love about this experience —the people, my village, all of the day in and day out stuff I’ve become comfortable and familiar with — all of the good stuff, equally will be gone in a week. Every moment is precious.

I find myself in an odd dance with everyone around me. Living our lives as usual, yet with the acute awareness of my imminent departure. It’s hard to leave, yes, but to reiterate Erin’s post and something I’ve now felt from the both sides—  it’s harder for the one that’s being left, than the one doing the leaving…

I’m a reflective person. It’s often easier for me to make sense of something in hindsight when I can piece it all together. So for now, I won’t try any further to explain what all is happening in my head. I’d rather focus on a few highlights from last week.

Gelar Seni and an official goodbye

Last Sunday was our school’s Gelar Seni. It is a combination between a graduation ceremony and an arts showcase. If video didn’t take so long to upload and I had software to edit it with, I’d consider posting a few pieces from it. It’s one of my favorite events because it allows me to see my students’ in such a different light where their creativity isn’t limited by the walls of their classroom. (See last year’s Gelar Seni post for some examples.) There were a variety of performances including student bands, dance routines, dramas, the school choir and more. It also gave me the opportunity to officially thank my school community and ask for forgiveness. (Asking for forgiveness is very common here. During special holidays or events or even something as simple as speaking up at a teacher’s meeting, people will often say they are sorry and ask for forgiveness for any mistakes they have made. This includes mistakes that they are unaware they have made.)

Teacher’s Workshop in Bondowoso

After weeks of on and off frustrations with class cancellations, counterparts’ dwindling motivation, and the other typical inconsistencies at my school, we ended on a good note. At our Sustainability Conference  back in March my principal, counterpart and I discussed having a workshop in our district to share our best practices. With some pushing from me and help from the wonderful English teachers at the local MGMP (English teacher’s professional group), we had the workshop last week. It was a hit! Sixty teachers from junior and senior high schools in Bondowoso and English teachers from local tutoring centers attended. They learned a little bit about me, the U.S. (Arizona to be more specific), Peace Corps and a lot about activities and techniques to use in their classrooms to engage their students more and set them up for success in learning English as a Foreign Language. I’ve been receiving emails and texts from teacher’s who’ve already tried out some of the new activities in their classes. They said their students loved it! Hooray for sustainability and spreading best practices!

One last weekend trip

A while back I got the idea to go paragliding in Batu from a few other volunteers who had attempted it. The weather wasn’t right, so they weren’t actually able to do it. Then I kept hearing about it and seeing it. I quickly added it to my “Before I leave Peace Corps Indonesia Bucket List.” It wasn’t too difficult to recruit a fellow volunteer up for jumping off a mountain with essentially a glorified kite.

Here we go! Attempt #1:

Mike had a little more luck with the wind than I did.

Here we go again! Attempt #2

We did it!

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.)

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…

Work-wise

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.

Teeth!

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.)

Facebook?

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.

Bonus:

  • 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.

Other/Photos

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.

Confession Sunday 1.13.2013

13 Jan

It’s not even over yet and I’m already reminiscing. Meaning… I watch this video way too much:

This video was made earlier last year to welcome the new group of volunteers to Peace Corps Indonesia. It’s a nice little peek into what our lives are like here, and I can’t help but get warm fuzzies every time I watch it.

The video is a compilation of short snippets shot by PCVs around East Java and masterfully combined by a Miss Elle Chang.

Bonus:
This is a video I for some reason still haven’t gotten around to posting yet either. It shows a day in the life of an Indonesian village. It was created by a group of volunteers and edited by Mr. Timothy Curtin during our group’s pre-service training nearly two years ago!

Maaf! for the delay but hopefully that gives you some idea of what this experience has been like. Additionally, I will post an actual update here real, real soon. So sit tight folks!

A different kind of celebrity

18 Sep

Note: Some may be wondering what the response has been here to the YouTube film that has sparked protests around the Muslim world. While there have been protests in major cities, so far the protests have been relatively peaceful. Police have had to use tear gas and water cannons to control the crowd and there has been burning of American flags. This is obviously unsettling, but I just want everyone to know that where I am I have been largely unaffected. So far I have not felt any adverse reaction to this being an American living in East Java. All of the Muslim people I know are peaceful and life has been going on as usual. Additionally, Peace Corps does an excellent job of keeping volunteers updated on developments as volunteer safety is a priority. If you are curious to see where protests have been happening The Atlantic Wire has a map of where protests are taking place. I think it’s also important to remember that words said or actions taken by some do not represent everyone or even the majority in any given group. It saddens me that individuals can incite so much anger and hate, especially as someone who works towards breaking down stereotypes and barriers everyday between Muslims and Americans. That’s all I will say about that, and now to our regularly scheduled programming…

Bule.

It’s not a word that’s meant to be derogatory, but it still gets under my skin.

It means foreigner. Typically it refers to Caucasian people, but it can suffice for any foreigner.

There’s also Tourist and Mister. The latter of which I believe is actually intended to be polite.

Regardless, to me it says, you and I? We’re not the same.

You’re different.

Continue reading

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 the past six months (And a few things I’m learning about photography)

22 Jun

This post is a bit random but I was looking through pictures from the last six months and here are my favorites: (Mouse over for captions and context. You can also click the photo to see it larger.)

The photos don’t have much to do with each other, other than they give a small glimpse into my life here. But also I noticed a few things in going through my photos.

1. My favorite photos almost always include people. For whatever reason I find them much more engaging.

2. They are always my best, technically-speaking. The above photos have little to no editing. (Part of that is because I finally learned how to set a custom white balance. If you’re learning to use a DSLR like me and you haven’t tried this feature yet, I highly suggest messing with it—it makes such a difference in getting the right colors.)

3. Good photos are few and far between. I’ve taken many more pictures in the last six months than any other period in the past. A few thousand. Many were deleted because they just didn’t turn out, and I fear I’m becoming a bit of a snob when it comes photos. So out of all those, these nine were my favorites (excluding those I’ve posted for other special events or from my travels.)

4. It’s more difficult to photograph every day life than it is to take good photos while traveling. It’s easy to be inspired by new sights and experiences so that you can’t help but start snapping away. It’s much more difficult to see every day life with fresh eyes and a sense of wonder.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder” – E.B. White

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.