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Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Final Chapter

This blog has been the hardest to write. How can I sum up coming back to the United States and being with my family and all the things that seem familiar and strange at the same time?

I got a drivers license the day I came back. If the state of Utah knew the status of my brain at that time they would absolutely NOT let me drive. The urge to pilot the car on the left side of the road was overwhelming. I had to tell myself “drive on the right” several times every day. Once I made a turn and oops – I forgot my mantra and found myself on the left side. (Don’t worry, kids, it only happened once and my grandkids weren’t in the car with me.)

Food is so delicious. I keep trying to eat moderately but I feel like I DESERVE to eat all the yumminess that I haven’t had for 27 months.

The medical stuff has been a pain. I forgot how slow the layers of medicine happen. It’s all check-ups: dermatology, mammogram, and trying to figure out what bugs are causing what inside my intestines. I have a colonoscopy scheduled for Wednesday and then hopefully I’ll be done with round one. The doctors here don’t take the forms that Peace Corps issued so I wind up having to get pre-approval, then pay in advance and now I have to wait several weeks to get an itemized bill and then I’ll submit that to the Peace Corps Insurance Co. and hopefully get reimbursed. It seems nutty that you must give a hospital several thousand dollars but they can’t give you a bill.

When I walk into a restaurant or a store I am SHOCKED at how expensive everything is. My daily budget in Indonesia was $1.30. The first time I filled up the car with gas I thought there must be something wrong with the pump.

We went camping last weekend and in the morning there was SNOW on the tent….real, true, cold, snow.

Some of the things I love here are: grandkid hugs, in fact Talon is sitting on my lap as I write this, hot water, refrigeration, healthy bread, cheese, and the availability of bathrooms. I was a little skeptical of toilet paper. I mean – it’s really not that sanitary – but it’s okay, I am acting like a regular American and using it. I miss the Islamic greetings that my students give me, so I’ve taught my grandson to take my hand and press it to his forehead and say the Arabic greeting. And then I give the response. And I find I still press my hand to my heart after I shake hands with someone. Air conditioning is so wonderful and so is the ability to understand what people are saying.

Emotionally I find I’m in a cautious, contemplative place. I’m just a lot more comfortable watching than I am in engaging in life. I feel like I am being disrespectful to my friends, but all I want to do is be a grandma, love and take care of my grandkids and very slowly take baby steps back into the life I used to be a part of. It’s so overwhelming. It’s hard to remember names and things important to people. It seems familiar but vague, like I’m not sure if I dreamed my time in Indonesia or I dreamed my time here.

My daughter-in-law wants to take this blog and print it up as a book. I always wondered what my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s life was like. Now, I’ll have something that I can hand to those future generations and say – here’s what your crazy great grandma did when she was 61 – 63 years old. I didn’t bring a lot of peace to the world, but I feel like I succeeded in making a difference in an Islamic High School in a little village in a little corner of Indonesia.

So I’ll end with the prayer that we said (in Arabic) as we started each lesson:

In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful. Praise be to Allah, the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds. Most gracious, most merciful. Master of the day of judgment. You do we worship and your aid we seek. Show us the straight path. The way of those on whom you have bestowed your grace, whose portion is not wrath and who go not astray.

(Yeah, it doesn’t totally make sense, but that’s what my Peace Corps service was all about…staying committed each day even when it didn’t make sense. I have to say, it was totally worth all the growing pains it took.)

Thank you, faithful readers, for coming on this journey with me.
Oma Colleen Young

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Farewell Party & Appreciation

My school took most of the day off and all the teachers went to the beach to spread out tarps and have a feast in my honor!  The Principal, Vice Principal and Teachers gave speeches and there was an Islamic prayer session.  They presented me with a ring with the name of the school engraved inside.  I tried for 4 hours to include a video, but my internet connection is too slow.

They even had a cooked turkey. I am holding its neck and head in the photo at the end of this blog.

I feel so loved here! I have such good friends in the states who have walked this journey with me, just an internet connection away, amazing Peace Corps Volunteers and staff who have been an integral part of my stay here and students and teachers who will always be in my heart.

My daughter, Katrina, who was a PCV in Africa (Malawi 1997-2000) said it well:
Those last few weeks are REALLY hard, probably as hard as or harder than the first few weeks. You're mentally straddling two worlds, trying to prepare for leaving one of them pretty much completely. It's hard to stay engaged when you know you're leaving soon. These weeks are going to fly by.

And they have. One more day to pack, one day to teach, one day for graduation, then I leave my village, 3 days in Surabaya to complete reports, check for TB, parasites, do a hard core malaria flush, close bank account, take a language competency test, turn in books, life jacket, bicycle helmet, unused medicine, write my description of service for my permanent file, the last volunteer report form with details about the education progress of all my students, a final interview with the country director then I'm on a flight home!

I want to share with you the bounty of love that I have received recently -
Appreciation from friends, fellow volunteers and students:

Dear Colleen
I just read your blog.
Have a safe trip back to the U.S.
You are an amazing woman!

(My reply)
Oh thanks so much, A.
I got tears when I read your message.
I really appreciate all the love and support you have given me during this journey.
I really am not amazing. I am sitting here - it's 4:38am, I woke up with the call to prayer, I'm already sweating and I feel too tired to go outside walking like I usually do because I'm coming down with a cold and I realized that I sent out that email and didn't even spell the word "only" right and the first version of the blog had a email attached at the bottom that originally inspired me to write but I forgot to delete it!
I'm a mess.
It takes someone beautiful to see something amazing in all that!
Love and a hug and see you soon.
Wonderful blog, Colleen. I think part of it should be required reading fro every new PCV recruit.
I think you may enjoy this song about senior moments - not that you or I have any of them.

Dear, dear Colleen -
My apologies this is not the nice hand-written note I had planned on the beautiful paper sitting on my desk beside me just for this purpose. Things happen.

I am so completely sad that you are leaving us. I comfort myself in the fact that you are probably so completely not sad to be returning to your family and grandkids. It has been a long road, and I think you've served your time to deserve some quality time with them.

Before I came to Indo, your blog was one that I read most. I even showed it to my mom and said, "See this is Colleen. She is doing it. Maybe we'll be friends and she'll show me how things go." I am not sure if it comforted my mother, but I hope her knowing I'd have a role-model here would help a little. After that, she still asks about you, and I believe she is still a devoted follower of your blog (you'll maybe have to start a baby-sitting blog so she won't lose out on that connection).

When we first arrived, it seemed like you were really the only one trying to prepare us for things, to try to leave some trail for us or make the path easier. With the blog of things we should know, plastic bags for the ladies, maps of Surabaya left at swearing in - these are things that should have been provided - but if not for you, we never would have had them. I thank you so much for those little things.

You also gave me probably the best piece of advice I've received for serving. After showing us how to put a condom on a banana : ), you told us that our first job was not teaching English, it was not secondary projects or even representing America - it was getting ourselves through to the next day. It was doing what we need to do to make it to that next day and to find a way to be happy here. That, above all things, has kept me going.

I was also super-siked to get to travel to Bali with you - to share bus and train experiences, crowd into a little room with you and 3 other ladies, see you finesse drivers and master all directions everywhere, to hear all about your wonderful life and your matter-of-fact take on experiences - to have you meet my brother and to share that horn implants are not an immediate deal breaker in a relationship. Colleen, it has been a supreme treat to be able to be here with you for a little while. It makes me wish we had longer together. You are such an inspiration in all you do, and I am certainly better for you having been here to show me the way.

I am so happy you will get to enjoy your time with your family, and I really hope you will visit NY at some point if I can ever make it back there after this.

Thanks again, Colleen. I can't wait to see you on the other side (the US)!
Much love,  E

(my reply)
Oh E,
Thank you! All the love you expressed has made me cry.
I honestly, really, truly, do NOT deserve all this praise.
I survived. Not especially gracefully or with any mega wisdom.
Thank you so much for this message. I really feel appreciated I do hope we get to meet up on the "other side."
Love and hugs,  Colleen

"oMaa,..............I never forget yOu,,...
i will remember you in my life forever,,.......
I LOVE YOU,,...."

And finally one from a person I will label “anonymous”

Dear: Oma Collen Young
Oma, I know there must be a farewell meeting in every.
It feels heavy when I had to part with you, but it is the truth.
The time you work in Indonesia has ended.
I hope you will always remember me, my school and my country.
I also hope we can meet again someday.
I am writing this letter to the accompaniment of tears oma…
Because the weight of when I know I will not see you again and maybe may English lessons will boring without you.
Oma pray, I can be successful, so I can visit to your country and meet you…
This might be my gift is not expensive, but maybe it makes you always remember me
Oma I like you eyes, your smile and the way you teach, you can make we laugh
Thank you so much oma
If one day you miss me, please send a email to me, and say that you miss me.
Oma, please don’t tell anyone if I’m sending you a letter, I expect this to be a secret between you and me….
Please replay my letter….

Dear anonymous,
I am sharing your secret letter with the world. They need to know that wonderful students like you are waiting for them if they too sign up to be Peace Corps Volunteers. But I will keep your name a secret in my heart.
I really enjoyed your letter.
I do hope that you will always remember me too.
It would be wonderful if you continued to be an excellent student and one day would come to America! Yes, that would be great~
I hope your life is going well.
See you in school for the rest of this week.
PS - Your gift is perfect! I just have a little card with some pictures that I will give to every student on Friday, but I want you to know that YOU ARE SPECIAL!

Here's the turkey...

And here's the card I have all the students, teachers and staff...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Loose Ends & Reflection

Tying up loose ends

The English Book for the “Best English Club”

My vice principal is getting panicky - he's pushing the project where I have to write a book which will teach my students English!!! I keep smiling and saying "Yes.” (God give me patience with this man.) I finished up the Grammar, Conversation and Cross Cultural chapters and then he wanted the Title page, Contents and Credits for all the editors (he and the other English teachers - who have not yet done their translation parts.)
Today he told me I need to write an acknowledgement and a preface!
He did apologize that I will never see the book because they won't print it till after I am gone!!!

You may think I'm slacking here in paradise - But I'm not!

Now he wants a Preface to every chapter!
And he wants all my music, all my photos, all my lesson plans (which I’ve already given him several times) and my shoes.
Give Me the Shirt Off Your Back

This is not unusual. Many other people have asked me for “a going away gift to remember me by” – there’s a special word for this in Indonesian. About 10 women have suggested that I give them the clothes that I am wearing!

Andrea, another Peace Corps volunteer took my pictures and made an awesome card that I have copied. One thousand copies, one thousand signatures, one thousand little hearts, one thousand sticky tags with my face book and email address attached to the back, stuffed in one thousand envelopes with one thousand stickers on them…. That’s so I can give one to every student and teacher at my school. It took me a week to get all that done.

Some bits and pieces being included in my Volunteer Report Form:

Community Integration:

I feel integrated into my community. I'm different, but accepted. I think I am the most loved volunteer in the Peace Corps Indonesia program - partly because I am old and that brings a lot of respect and admiration but also I think it's my attitude. I always tried to make each day fun for me so that I would want to come back again tomorrow. Students and teachers and community members can tell if you genuinely enjoy what you do. And I do.


Every day is a challenge. In looking back over the last 27 months I have to say that I never expected to feel so much despair, doubt and inadequacy. Peace Corps is much tougher than I thought. Who I am now is not who I was when I came to Indonesia. I used to be a confident, competent woman. Now I am much less sure of the meaning of things. I am humbled by my lack of ability to thoroughly learn Indonesian and Indonesian culture. It's okay. I am learning to be patient with this new woman that I have become. My "dis-abilities" are not the defining part of me. I am living closer to the “core” of who I am and in that place the challenges I experience are like waves washing over the ocean, they really don’t alter the essence of the water.

Lessons Learned:

I have learned to say “yes” and then figure out the details later. I have learned that if someone wants me to do something that there will be some reward in it for me even if it seems overwhelming at the time of the request. I said “yes” to Peace Corps service and I have learned that no matter how difficult the circumstances it’s worth it.

Planned Activities:

This week I will return to America and present a program on Indonesia to the kindergarten where my grandchild is a student. I am taking home many fabrics and crafts from Indonesia to facilitate telling my friends and family about my experiences.

Peace Corps Goal 2 – To promote a better understanding of the American people

I taught all 579 of my grade 10 and 11 students a lesson about Americans based on Barack Obama's book - Of Thee I Sing - A Letter to my daughters. We learned about Georgia O'Keefe, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Sitting Bull, Billie Holiday, Helen Keller, Maya Lin, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Neil Armstrong, Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

The students and teachers listened to uplifting and inspiring words from President Obama in both English and Indonesian. We discussed the impact that each person can have within their community.

Peace Corps Goal 3 – To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

That’s the main purpose of this 2 ½ year blog project

Success story:

I remember very little from my own High School language classes. I studied French and I recall that my teacher was beautiful yet almost cruel. She insisted on proper pronunciation. I know how to say “Bonjour” and I remember the words to a song we learned.

My legacy of what I will leave behind as a Peace Corps volunteer will NOT be a school full of fluent English speakers but the challenge has always been to leave them with a little more knowledge, competency and desire to speak English.

One of my co-teachers, Mrs. Ni’mah wanted to “use media” in the advanced grade 10 class. At my school, many classrooms do not have electricity. But one group of “gifted” students is in a classroom where there is a carpet and students and teachers must remove their shoes before entering. Not only is there electricity but there is an overhead projector where you can hook up your computer and project images and sound to the front of the room. “Technology” is not one of my strong points but my co-teacher insisted that I find something in English and teach it to this class. I suspect these students may pay extra for this privilege of being in this class – that is true in many schools in Indonesia, but I also wanted to do something special for my other, not so advanced classes.

I found a song by a Norwegian girl group – M2M - that I have heard a few times on loud speakers set up for weddings. I could play the music video on the overhead projector and in the other classes I could charge my battery and take the computer and play the song and then at the end of the class hold up the computer so the students could see the video. This song, “The Day You Went Away” expresses some of the pain of moving on in your life and has an easy to remember series of repetitions.

“And we were letting go of something special – Something we’ll never have again.” “I know. I guess I really, really, know.”

So I taught this song to my 3 co-teachers and then, together, we proceeded to teach the song to the 579 students that I teach every week.

The challenge was having the students achieve a sense of competency in a 40 – 90 minute session. Half of my students only see me for 40 minutes each week and in many of those classes the boys are often late coming to class and so I need to do something that gives an advantage to the students who are on time but still doesn’t leave the boys behind.

I went to each class and played the song, stopping at various times to ask the students what they heard. I wrote their responses on the board. Then we erased the board and I gave them lyrics with 20 blank places where they had to listen and write down the word they heard. After several times going through the song, we corrected the papers. The next step was to have the students sing the song reading along with the words. When they could do this well, then I had them put the papers away and sing from memory. The final step was to sing without the music.

They groaned as each step became increasingly harder. They tried to cheat and look at the words in the most creative ways. But at the end of the session every group was able to sing the song on their own without music! The students cheered. For most of them it was the first time they had massive success in speaking English.

Because so many other teachers heard us practicing this song, they also asked to learn the words.

On graduation day, the day before I leave my village permanently, my co-teachers, the vice principal and I plan to sing this song on the stage while Grade 10 and 11 students join in. I hope it will be a gift that we can give the graduating seniors and a tender farewell to this school that will remain in my heart.

“Why do we never know what we’ve got till it’s gone.”
“And I am letting go of something special, something I’ll never have again.”

No one wants to think that I will never return to Indonesia. They insist that I give them a date when I will come again. But the truth is in all probability, I won’t return. I am in the process of saying goodbye to the people who have dramatically altered my view of who I am.

Advice to future Peace Corps Volunteers in Indonesia:

Diversity – How it feels to be the only older volunteer for most of my time in Indonesia.
There were times when I felt Despair, questioned why I ever signed up for this job, Doubted if I could do it and felt like a bumbling idiot
I knew I was smart. I knew I was competent. How could I possibly not be that and yet by every measure I knew, I was not measuring up.
I was a failure in my own eyes.
In Pre Service Training I tried so hard to learn the new vocabulary but I just couldn’t remember it.
And I felt physical symptoms too. My hip hurt. My knees hurt. I had diarrhea. (a lot)
I suspected a lot of this was because I was old but no one in my village agreed with me. The other trainees said they all said learning Indonesian was hard and they didn’t feel great all the time either. But in my heart, I knew it was harder for me.

And then there was the whole being tethered to a family issue. It had been so long since I felt I had to answer to someone, to ask for permission to go outside, to have the request to leave the window open at night denied, to be told when, where and what to eat.
I was treated like I was old and fragile. In my permanent village people told me there was no way they would let their grandmother go to Surabaya by herself. Mandatory retirement age for teachers at my school is 60. The average life expectancy in Indonesia is 65.

Indonesians felt comfortable falling asleep against me. If I wasn’t talking to the person next to me on the bus or train I could almost guarantee that they would fall asleep on my shoulder. And one time I spent the night at another volunteer’s house with 2 local 22 year old girls. They both wanted to sleep in the same single bed with me rather than sleep in the top bunk! I finally just apologized and crawled into the top bunk by myself.

And then on the other side of the coin, I felt slighted when they always let the oldest teacher be the first in line and she was 3 years younger than I was!

And sometimes it was my fault. I don’t blame them for thinking I was senile. I would step out into the road after looking the wrong way, hand money with my left hand and say the absolutely wrong thing – oops, I just got one word mixed up!

And it sucks being the only older volunteer. My support group was kids younger than my children!

The delightful part of this situation is that I found I am still young at heart. Some days I’ll remember forever: The day we made the human pyramid at Borobodur. The night in Bali we stayed out clubbing till 3am. The day I jumped off a 50 foot cliff into a river with 9 of my closest friends. I made an effort to bond with those crazy youngsters and it all paid off. I feel closer to them than I ever imagined. They helped me get through this challenging Peace Corps experience.

I felt so frustrated. I tried to talk to PC staff but they just didn’t want to listen. I know they thought I was a complainer. I really thought there were things they could do to help the situation but all I got was that they thought I should stop complaining. I felt so alone.
I didn’t think any other volunteer was going through what I was going through. I wasn’t really close to any of the others anyway.
I cried alone in my room.

What got me through – I don’t know. I guess it’s my belief that nothing you experience is just about you. I figured that ultimately other volunteers would be forced into situations where they were pressured to give money, or situations where they had diarrhea and vomiting at the same time, or situations where they were worried about their host families feeding them.

I stayed here in Indonesia because of YOU, the future generations of Peace Corps volunteers. I figured that if I could face all my difficulties and figure out how to do it that maybe I could help you out in some way. Or maybe just by facing my difficulties I would inspire some of my students to face theirs.

But the truth is I don’t know How to explain what solved the problem.

I came to understand that every moment that challenges me is my teacher – a persistent yet compassionate teacher. If I don’t handle the difficulties in that moment, they will come at me again at another time in my life.

It’s not just this one counterpart who doesn’t value me, it’s my friend in America, or my co-worker at any job I have. Ultimately it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.

What do I do when I don’t feel valued, when I feel rejected, when I feel useless, when I feel used? Those where the dilemmas that my Peace Corps service presented me with.

I became much better at going with the flow, lowering my expectations and listening to what the situation was asking of me.

Often I just did not think I could do it. God help me. I am not super woman. But somehow, someway, I survived. Maybe just my example is all that I can give you.

The problems that you will be given each contain a gift that is unique for you. I hope you ultimately learn to treasure them. Because the person that you are now, the one who is beginning this adventure, is not the person that you will be when you finish. That new person is yearning to be born, but the birth process is so painful!

In the words of someone else: “Sometimes Peace Corps kinda sucks.”

But hang in there. In the end it’s really worth it. I’m curious to find out the new you that you will become just as a result of simmering in this Indonesian soup.

PS Peace Corps is the 2nd hardest job I have ever had. (I think "mothering" was harder. Happy Mother’s Day to all you other Mothers out there.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Can you find me?

I'm the one with long legs and a smile!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

34 Days till America

What I’m looking forward to:

In no particular order:
Being able to understand what people are saying.

Not being famous - stared at, spoken to, admired, watched constantly

Cool weather

No bugs in the food


Hugging Talon and Kira and Arlo (my grandchildren)

Going for a hike in the mountains

Being able to cook

Being able to sit down on a toilet

Showers with warm water

Being alone

Taking the grandkids to the zoo, the park, the living farm, the children's museum

Sleeping at night without a fan blowing on me

No mosquitoes

Driving a car - (well I need to get my license renewed first)

Sitting on grass

Watching a movie (or TV) and understanding all the words

Having a picture with all my children, their spouses and kids and ME.

Making a fort in the living room and having a picnic lunch inside

Food that actually tastes familiar and delicious

Meals without white rice


Not having to wear a jilbab

Dairy Queen peanut buster parfaits

No fish heads

Having people think I'm a superstar because I survived this (he he he)

Telling stories about different ways of thinking, believing, behaving

Drinking tap water

Drinking diet ginger ale

Meeting Arlo for the first time

Meeting Blue for the first time

Seeing my sisters (and brothers)

Being able to go out in the evening

Sleeping with the window open

Meeting my friends

Going to the library


.....and a zillion other things.....

Things I’ll miss:

In no particular order:

Hearing my name “Oma” called out when students walk by my class

Having students take my hand and press it to their face

Greeting every teacher in the morning and before I leave

The “coolness” of early morning walks

The tea sellers daughter calling out to me, “I love you.”

Smiles on the faces of kids too shy to talk.

My awesome hot pink flamingo school uniform (okay I’ll bring it home)

Star fruit, papaya, hairy fruit, mangos, dragon fruit, and lots of others that I don’t know in English

Hearing the sound of prayers 5 times a day.

Hanging out with 20 something year olds (my fellow PCV’s)

Cheap food (a Chocolate Sundae at McDonalds is 55cents or you can get a whole Indonesian meal for that amount)

Cats with mangled tails

People telling me I’m beautiful just because I’m wearing a jilbab

Pregnant women who want to stoke my nose then touch their bellies

Alarm clock chickens (& they taste so good)

Lizards on the ceiling

The sound of trains

Little spotted pigeon hard boiled eggs

Weddings and funerals in the middle of the street

Drinking fresh coconut milk

Getting change back in bills and candy

Palm trees and beaches

Sun dried sheets and clothes

Wearing a uniform so I don’t have to think about what I’ll wear

Feeling great when I remember a word I thought I’d forgotten

Teaching an awesome lesson when the kids really have fun and learn something too

Having people be amazed that I can take an hour long bus ride, by myself

Little bugs that glow in the dark

Taking my shoes off when I go inside a house

Being loved SO MUCH

....and a zillion other things....

White Water Rafting

Oh yea! It’s fun!

There are some unique benefits to Peace Corps life. Every month we get $24 and 2 days of vacation! In addition we are allowed to take 2 out-of-community days each month.

Given that this is National Testing week and there is NO reason to go to school because all my teachers are at a different school – well, I went white water rafting and camping with some of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

We met up at Sarah’s house in Probolingo and her host dad gave the 10 of us a ride to the rafting company. Sarah’s host brother had been a rafting guide for several years. Current volunteers who are reading this blog and want some of the action can check it out at

We camped out near the totally awesome shelter / food serving area. We took a hike up the river and then it started pouring rain and the river looked like it was straight out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After dinner the staff made a bon-fire and we roasted corn then played a game that Erika taught us about made up murder mysteries.

In the morning, after breakfast we put on safety helmets, life jackets with a little flap at the back to keep your head up, were given a bottle of water, a paddle and instructions. Then we all loaded into the back of a truck and drove about 20 minutes up the road. After about a 15 minute hike we were at the river.

No way! It looked like the trail just disappeared and they were sliding the rafts down a steep embankment, but as we re-assembled I could see the little steps down the mountain to the water. There was a painted water level on some rocks and we were within the safety zone so it was a “go.”

There were 5 “tourists” and 2 guides in each raft. In addition there was another raft with 3 guides who scouted out each set of rapids and strung rope across if it was really treacherous. I never quite figured out the rope deal – maybe that was to catch us if we all got dumped.

And we did get dumped! Well, let’s put it this way, we went swimming in the river 5 or 6 times. It was totally fun. At the sort of calmer places the guides had us stand up on the raft and spin us around, or they just dumped us out for fun or we sort of fell out of the raft and they pulled us back in.

Our raft was really good at scooping up water and splashing the other raft and not so good at following the guides directions – left side forward, all forward, right reverse, etc. But I did understand BOOM – which meant pull your paddles in and HOLD ON. It was like being in a pin ball game only these were giant boulders we were going over, around and crashing into. Some places we all had to duck because vines and branches were dangling into the water and we were zipping by too fast to move out into the main part of the river. Some places the river just disappeared as we went off the edge!

One time we all got out of the rafts and climbed up to an overlook spot and ate fried dough things and drank fresh coconut milk. Then they showed us how we could cliff-dive! Okay. I am totally afraid of heights. I just made up my mind that it was now or never, I would absolutely never be in a place like this again with crazy 20 something year olds so I screamed as loud as I could and JUMPED 4 or 5 stories up into the raging river. This may be the highlight of my Peace Corps experience…face your fears and go with the flow... It was incredibly fun!

All of us made it safely out except that lightweight Maggie kept drifting by and people needed to save her.

A little farther down we saw several Komodo dragons by the river. The guide jumped out of the raft and tried to catch one, but it was too fast. Scott said he thought they were monitor lizards but everyone else agreed that they looked like the Komodo dragons in the Surabaya zoo.

Even after we saw the wild animals in the water (which, by the way, like to eat live goats and I’m not sure what a pair of legs sticking out of life jacket looks like underwater but it sure wouldn’t surprise me if we resembled goat legs) anyway, even after we saw the Komodo dragons we still went “swimming” in the river.

We also floated past some ladies doing laundry and some naked men, who carefully held their private parts.

We got a certificate (this is Indonesia after all) that said that the rapids on the Pekalen River that we had just successfully navigated are rated at Class III+. I was impressed!

I’ve been rafting before but I have to tell you, this was absolutely the best!

If I can get some of the pictures Allison and Maggie took, I’ll add them to this blog.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

National Exams

In Indonesia very year during the month of April there are National Exams for class 12. Every Senior must pass these tests to graduate from a nationally accredited High School. My Madrassah is a religious school that also follows the national standards.

The pressure for students to pass these tests is intense. Last year, one student from my school did not pass. She only got 10% on the Mathematics part of the exam. I was told that this would affect her for the rest of her life. It would influence who she could marry. Her family would be ashamed of her. Two teachers went from my school to deliver the news to her family.

A month ago we had a community wide “Pray Day” to ask for Allah’s blessing on the students. About 1000 parents, grandparents and community members attended. We have a little less than 300 Grade 12 students.

For the past few months we have had 15-20 days of practice tests. (Sometimes we practice for a few hours, sometimes we practice for the entire day.) During these times, the other students do not go to class because their classrooms are being used for the “Try Out Exam.” That’s what it’s called. The grade 12 students sit only 1 student to a desk, rather than the usual 2 and every student has an assigned seat in a specific classroom. Different copies of the test are distributed so that no two students sitting next to each other get the same test.

Next week is the actual National Exam. Teachers from my school will go to a different Madrassah and they in turn will send their teachers here so that the exam proctors do not know the students that they are supervising. The purpose is to discourage cheating.

Yesterday we had a school wide prayer service in the mosque to ask Allah for his blessings on our students. Once again we had no teaching sessions. It was an emotional event. At the end of the prayers, all the female teachers stood in a row outside the mosque and every female Grade 12 student came and bowed and took our hand and pressed it to their face. Many of them had tears in their eyes. The boys gave the official greeting of respect to the male teachers. When the Grade 12 students were finished with the teachers, they then went to every other female student in the school. And every female student greeted every female teacher.

My co-teacher explained that is a difficult emotional time for students because they may not see each other again. (Well, we will have a graduation ceremony but at that event the Grade 12 students are dressed in formal lace tops and long printed skirts and have a lot of make up on their faces and last year they didn’t cry.) The crying surprises me. When I attended a funeral of a student who was killed on a motorcycle there were no tears. I was told that it was not proper to express emotion that way, that the Holy Qu’ran specifies moderation.

So next week there is no reason to go to school. There will be no classes and no teachers from my school in the teacher room. I’ll spend one night with Peace Corps friends on a rafting trip and another night in Jakarta attending a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer party sponsored by the Americans who did their Peace Corps service many years ago and are now living in Indonesia. I’m looking forward to seeing how “regular Americans” live. I think of this as a part of my re-integration process.

May 20th I will leave my village and go to the Peace Corps office and begin the 3 day Close of Service program when I turn in a massive amount of reports, materials that I’ve borrowed, make sure I’m medically okay and then on May 24th I’ll head back to the States.

My plan is to live for 3 months in Salt Lake City, with my daughter, her husband and 2 grandkids that I have missed so much. And then move to Las Cruces, New Mexico with my son and his wife and my new grandchild who is now 1 year old. I’ll live with them for a year or more.

And then… no plan.

I want to write about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown and who and what I’ll miss and the experiences that have shaped this new person who grew out of who I was but I find myself getting teary eyed and the sweat is dripping down my neck and there is thunder outside. It’s going to rain and this is the time that the little ants that I normally can’t feel anymore start to bite and I need to turn off the computer to keep it from getting zapped in the storm. I’ll write more another day.