Tag Archives: Wonderment in Indoland

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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An Indonesian Wedding

17 Jul

Wedding season is in full swing here in Indo! The Islamic holiday, Ramadan, is nearing. According to several sources, this is what is pushing everyone to get in their kicks before the month of fasting, sleepless nights and who knows-what-else begins…thus making July a popular time for weddings.  I’ve been to three wedding parties within the last week, including the one I just got back from a bit ago. It isn’t uncommon to be invited to wedding parties if you aren’t particularly close to the bride and groom. Oftentimes a wall of amplifiers announces to the entire community that a wedding is going on and that you should be part of the festivities. Another interesting cultural difference is that it’s not rude to eat and leave. In fact, that is the status quo: show up, say hello, eat some food and be on your way. (Fun fact from my life: A few days ago I went to a wedding party with a group of teachers from my school.  We said congrats, ate our food and were gone long before the party even started!)

For my host family, weddings are the family business. My host mother owns a salon (aka: she’ll do your hair and make-up in our living room) and my host brother-in-law is an entrepreneur of sorts. He creates the decorative sets that the bride and groom greet people from during the wedding parties.  Here is one such example:

This is what I call a "wedding set." I don't know what they really call these things.

I enjoy attending wedding parties because there is good food and it’s interesting to see some of the more traditional culture seep through in garments worn, music played and the wedding ceremony itself.  Though I’ve attended a number of parties, I’ve only seen the actual ceremony once, at a wedding held a few weeks ago.

It was fascinating to observe such a tradition. The bride processed in, flanked by her parents. She stood opposite the entrance as the groom followed suit with his parents in-tow. The two processed down a red-carpeted aisle, and they met in the middle where a series of ceremonious actions unfolded. The bride washed the groom’s feet in a bath of flower petals, circled around him, people threw rice… and so forth. I didn’t quite catch all of what was happening because I got shutter-happy with my camera. Thus here are a few photos as a result….

The bride washing the groom's feet.

Both the bride and groom kneel before both sets of parents.

The bride kneels before the her parents.

The groom kneels before his mother.

The bride and groom stand before family and friends for the first time as husband and wife.

The goings-on after the ceremony.

I’d like to share more but as fate would have it, I’m having some technical difficulties with my flickr account, internet connection and speed. So that will have to do for now. Aaaannnndddd on a final note I’d like to introduce you to my host family:

My host family and I after attending a wedding party.

Potty talk

1 Jun

I have a dirty little secret.

I’m still using toilet paper. Yeah, I know, it’s repulsive and wasteful. No need to worry though, I’m becoming enlightened on the subject. I’ve just finished a fascinating little read titled “How to Sh*t Around the World” by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth. One would think these are the sort of things in life one could figure out on their own, but sometimes it helps to have a little guidance and confirmation that there  are other acceptable practices for taking care of business.

Having not traveled to Asia before or having lived in a village, this is all new to me. I’m realizing a vast amount of people around the world do not have a porcelain throne to perch upon. After reading this book, I’m realizing there are a wide variety of toilet situations a person can stumble upon depending on where their travels take them. Likewise,  it would be good for me to know some of this common sense, that’s not so common sense to me.

So how does it all work exactly? Luckily, Peace Corps has provided us with a little diagram:

A supplement provided in the Peace Corps Indonesia Health Handbook. Drawing created by current Peace Corps Volunteer Andy MakePeace.

I’ve been grappling with the concept of adopting the Indonesian way of doing things since I got here —  using water and the left hand (see diagram above.) I still can’t quite bring myself to use the restroom sans toilet paper, yet even getting over the idea of squatting every day was difficult to accept several months ago. Prior to arriving, one of the first things I did when I learned of squat toilets was call the Peace Corps Indonesian Country Desk in Washington D.C. and asked if I would be able to find toilet paper in Indonesia or if I should consider packing a decent supply to get me started.  To my relief toilet paper is plentiful. Some people do use it, but for many it’s just not practical or customary. One fellow trainee was even shunned from his host family until he adopted their ways. In talking to some of the others who’ve adjusted, I feel like an oddball for sticking to my American ways. Perhaps I’ll come around at some point…

I know one of my concerns was of the cleanliness of it all. Well it is quite a clean habit, given you wash your hands well afterwards and before eating food. I even have a quote from the book to prove it. “[Using water is] an excellent and hygienic habit which most Westerner’s find revolting, yet citizens of warmer countries find our habit of using paper instead of water incomprehensibly uncivilized and dirty.”

It’s true, toilet paper is considered dirty here. It can’t be flushed down the toilet, so it must accumulate in trash cans or plastic bags which may make it to the dump or be burned in the front yard.

I find this cultural clash over bathroom practices quite fascinating. When we arrived at the airport in Surabaya, I was horrified when I walked into the ladies room and everything was dripping wet. I was soon informed by Peace Corps staff that a wet bathroom is considered a clean bathroom in Indonesia.

My humble squat pot gets the job done.

And now some fun facts about toilet paper:

  • Tp was first produced in England in 1957. It was called Gayety’s Medicated paper and only used by the rich. At the time it was considered embarrassing to buy such a product.
  • Toilet paper rolls first appeared in 1928. In 1932 soft toilet paper was introduced.
  • Another fun fact: “…in a lifetime, the average Westerner’s toilet paper use consumes about 22 trees.”

(Fun facts courtesy of “How to Sh*t Around the World” by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth.)

Mid-pre-service training update

22 May

Alright, alright so this isn’t exactly a Mid-Pre-Service Training Update because believe it or not we’re already more than halfway done. Swearing in is just a few short weeks away.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I can’t believe how fast everything is happening.  Yesterday we took our last Indonesian language exam; tomorrow we’re off to visit the current volunteers to shadow them at their sites and schools; and when we return later this week…we find out where we’ll end up teaching for the next two years.

Though I’ve been here for six weeks, today I had a few notable first experiences. I attended my first Indonesian festival. I was asked (and fulfilled the request) to touch a pregnant woman’s stomach for good luck. (Of all the things I ever thought I’d be in life, I never thought of myself as a talisman.) I counted 20 people in one angkot. And I tried durian.

Durian in all its spiky glory.

The legendary fruit is said to either be loved or hated by most people. Well, I guess I’m not most people because I felt rather indifferent towards the fruit. It smells quite pungent, but its taste was more mild than I expected. After getting rancid whiffs of it while traveling about town and being warned that it shouldn’t be consumed on an empty stomach, I was a tad apprehensive but nonetheless curious to try it.

If I had to describe it’s distinguishable odor, I would tell you to imagine fruit fermenting in the bottom of a trash can out in the sun for about a week. If I had to describe it’s taste, I would tell you that it’s a tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit bitter and a tiny bit I’m-not-quite-sure-what.  As for the texture, it’s creamy. I would equate the entire experience to trying a rare cheese.

A look at its innards.

In conclusion: training is flying by, today was pleasant enough and durian is weird.

Look Ma, I made the news!

29 Apr

And of course I would make this face …..

Countdown: Five weeks-ish

26 Feb

Five weeks still seems like a long time to me, but to put it into perspective it means I have five Saturdays/weekends left (not counting today.) So when I think about it that way it doesn’t seem like very much.

Three of those weeks I will continue to work full-time so my preparations and spending time with family and friends is going to be condensed into these last few weekends and my last two weeks .

My excitement for the Peace Corps had waned in the past two months, since I knew where I would be going and there was nothing to do but wait. I hadn’t really been thinking about Indonesia at all until this week when I began taking inventory of my belongings and creating a packing list.

In addition to that, yesterday I received an email from the Peace Corps Indonesia desk with tons more information! This is really exciting because Indonesia was just reopened for Peace Corps volunteers last year. I am part of the second group of volunteers to head there since the 60’s. Needless to say until now there was not much information at all about what my assignment or lifestyle will be like there. I’m excited to sift through the info., and I’m sure I’ll be sharing some of it here shortly!

Visit Indonesia

7 Feb

I still have roughly two months to go, and I’m already going to begin trying to entice people to come visit. Over the weekend I found a fun little travel site dedicated to the indie traveler called Boots n All.

There I found the following travel articles featuring Indonesia:

And now I will leave you with a video from a better known travel source, Lonely Planet, on one of Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations Bali (and Lombok.)

Countdown: Two Months

4 Feb

: )

A little about where I’ll be spending the next two years

23 Jan

What do I know about Indonesia? Practically nothing. However, being the clever girl that I am, this is what I’ve come up with after quickly skimming this fascinating thing known as the internet.

Quick Facts:

Indonesia is. . .

  • made up of more than 17,000 islands
  • located along the equator
  • the fourth most populated country in the world (ranked just below the United States)
  • predominantly Muslim
  • pretty in pictures found on the internet ; )

Indonesia has. . .

Now moving on from my third-grade in-class country report . . . I spoke with the Peace Corps Indonesian Desk at the beginning of the weekend. I’ve already applied for my passport and visa and submitted my updated resume and aspiration statement so nothing further is needed from me at this point (which is an unusual feeling.) Also, the program in Indonesia is so new that the Peace Corps hasn’t even come out with a Welcome Book that explains to future volunteers what to expect, pack etc., and apparently they will be providing more information as the departure date gets closer. So in the mean time I have nothing left to do but enjoy my time here and try and learn something a little more substantial about Indonesia.

“You’re primary job now is to wait, but there is plenty to explore” – heading from my toolkit update

Stick around kids, in the upcoming months as I share with you my findings on Indonesia and prepare to leave the U.S.

Photo credits: 12 | 3 | 4

On the topic of anonymity:

8 Jan

Photo courtesy of Banksy.

I will soon be giving up my ability to be anonymous, unknown — blend in. I’ve finally received word on my official destination and accepted an invitation to serve in Indonesia. (More on Indonesia later.)

I’ve been considering the fact that I am going to stick out for better or worse in Indonesia. The Peace Corps even cautions of this in one of its handbooks which addresses adjustments volunteers must be prepared to make. Peace Corps volunteers reach a sort of “celebrity” status in the country they serve in. This is due to the fact that in the areas they go, they might be a person’s only exposure to a citizen of the U.S., Westerner or even a  foreigner. A great deal of interest will be associated with this as many people will be curious to learn about me and what I’m doing there.

So this, coupled with my recent viewing of “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which features, was produced by and directed by the elusive street artist Banksy, has got me thinking a lot of about the luxury of the ability to remain anonymous.

Think about it. It’s apparent some people desire to be seen and known or pop culture wouldn’t be riddled with faux celebrities soaking up their 15 minutes and making careers out of just being seen on TV. These people get paid to attend club events and parties, tweet and more. They want to be heard and seen.  So there’s those people . . .

But, if you ask most celebrities (especially ones with talent and especially über celebrities), I’m sure there are times when they’d give anything to be completely unseen and blend in just like everyone else.  (If you want to refute this, just think of how much they invest in creating a world of privacy around themselves.)

Bansky on the other hand . . . his name is known. His work appreciated. Yet, he retains the ability to get a cup of coffee or a box of cereal and not draw attention. If I may opine, this is possibly the best of both worlds.

Obviously, I haven’t experienced any sort of celebrity.  I’ve lived my life as most, another face in the crowd. I just thought I’d give some thought on anonymity being that it is held to some as dear and to others a plague to be avoided at all costs. (I’m talking about you, Lady Gaga.)

I will have to make many changes when I go to Indonesia, and one thing is for sure: I will be very out of place, and I will be giving up the freedom of going unnoticed while going about my daily business. Whether the attention is sought or not, good or bad,  I think I will enjoy blending in for the time being.

Photo courtesy of Banksy.