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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sami and Diana's blog

Most of the people who read my blog are about as computer literate as I was before I came to Indonesia. So, for the older crowd - (You young ones already know this) there are lots of other blogs by Peace Corps volunteers. You can see them by going to "Peace Corps Journals" and then click on "Indonesia" to read what is happening to my friends.

I was touched by what Sami wrote and she included part of what Diana wrote - so, I copied it here for you:

The Day You Mistook Devendra for Me, Or: The Right to be Cheesed (by Sami)

If you haven’t been reading Diana’s blog, you certainly should. She just wrote a great entry about why cultural differences make us so agitated:
“On culture shock: the idea of culture shock entails the idea that it will end. Something which is shocking is only upsetting for a moment, and then things go back to normal. Even when studying culture in college, the entrance to another culture like that which I’ve done was called “culture shock.” I was reading a book intended for teachers like PCVs who immerse themselves in other cultures, and the author described the situation as more of “culture fatigue.” I find this a much more accurate description of the cultural transition. The first time you stand in front of your house for over an hour waiting for a bus while being bitten by mosquitoes, swarmed by flies, stared at and heckled by every third person on the road, you are shocked. The first time maybe you say that it’s a “cultural experience.” I’ve realized in coming to Indonesia how much of a buzzword that phrase is in America. Whenever I talk about something frustrating, the poor soul listening back home says “what a cultural experience.” “Cultural experience” also has the connotation of brevity. I thought that after I had lived in Indonesia for awhile, Indonesian ways of doing things would become a literal second nature and would seem normal and thus not terribly irritating. But let me say that the 100th time I stood in front of my house for over an hour waiting for a bus while being bitten by mosquitoes, swarmed by flies, and heckled was not any bit better, more normal, or less irritating than the first time. Quite to the contrary, the knowledge that the irritation with busses is not transitory – the knowledge that it’s going to take this much time and effort every time I want to go in to the city for the next year and a half makes it even more irritating. Thinking it will get better provides a goal of cultural tolerance toward which you can work. Recognizing it won’t get better frustrates you with the whole system. Thus, cultural fatigue encompasses the idea that you’re “tired” WITH the culture; with the set of beliefs and attitudes which were established long before you came and which will continue long after you leave. The fatigue is more than just mental though – this job is utterly exhausting. Constantly working to understand, to be polite, to be competent, to be understanding, to not rip someone’s head off is so much harder than anything I did in America. I get 8 hours of sleep each night, but by 7pm, I’m wiped. I actually noticed this first in Bali. The ease of communicating and existing for us in Bali, both in Kuta while surrounded by Indonesians who spoke English and were accustomed to our culture, and later with the other PCVs, left us a ton of energy. Sam and Luke were awake for almost 3 days straight. We all stayed out multiple times until 4am and got 4-5 hours of sleep and were good to go like that all week. It was really weird.
This is a tough time in the PC cycle for a variety of reasons, and is a period of increased “cultural fatigue.” There are a lot of ways in which we’ve acclimated to living in Indonesia. The heat doesn’t get to me much anymore, and I’m a pro with the bug spray bottle. Food is good, I can wash my clothes by hand, and the teaching is getting easier. Some things still piss me off from day to day though.”

Travis and I have been understanding our lives in terms of our newfound bipolarity; we both feel that the cultural roller coaster we thought would end or at least slow down has in fact done neither (roller coaster is still the only way to accurately, albeit cliché-ly, describe it). The emotional insanity of PST of which we thought we’d eventually be free has become an hourly reality in our lives at site. No more smoothly transitioning day-to-day or week-to-week series of ups and downs. We thought that was rough…boy were we in for it.
Sometimes I get so angry or depressed before school that I don’t recognize myself. Then snap! I’m elated to meet my students and tell jokes with my counterpart. Snap! I’m furious because someone has (by American standards) absolutely appalling manners though doesn’t seem to care or register my discomfort (because it’s no big deal in this culture). Snap! I witness students and teachers practicing English independent of my encouragement and feel joyously proud. Snap! I get disgusted with my inability to speak Javanese and my consequential alienation from teachers’ room banter. Snap! I have a blast hanging out with the neighborhood kids and practicing English with them. Snap! I’m harassed into a rage about not eating enough rice for dinner. Snap! I feel like a jerk for regaining weight I lost during Ramadhan and for being called fat for it. Snap! I watch something funny on my computer and feel uplifted (even if artificially). Snap! I find myself in tears because I can’t fall asleep despite my exhaustion.
There are many ‘problems’ in my life that I thought would get better as time went on, and realizing they won’t change is making me anxious. As much as I tout cultural adaptation being a two-way street, I’m starting to accept that my Indonesian friends not only won’t adapt to me in certain ways but that expecting them to do so would be unfair. I’ve got to be the one to take the extra measure to be more sensitive, calmer, and more tolerant.
And it pains me to recognize that I’m a lot more uptight and impatient than I thought I was.
The only people I can be comfortable around and whose company I truly, unconditionally, and absolutely enjoy are children, specifically my kid friends. They accept me, they don’t laugh at me; they seem much more mature than most of the adults. They make an effort to explain things I don’t understand. They teach me things, take me places, and give me hugs. They are excited to see me because I’m me, not because I’m different or strange or an attraction, a spectacle. They rely on me and look up to me and I can see that I inspire them—by paying attention to them and helping them learn and grow, not by being a foreigner or a village celebrity.
I hang with these kids every single evening. Looking forward to it and meeting the kids keeps me from becoming a hermit and helps me remember that I’m valued and needed (what PCV doesn’t want to feel that?).
I think we’re all having such a rough time because though we were requested by the Indonesian government to fulfill a need in these village schools, some of our counterparts do a good job of making us feel unnecessary or expressing their ambivalence to our presence. In my case, my counterpart’s needs and my skills do not perfectly match, though it’s no fault of either of ours; I feel needed and appreciated but I could be doing so much more, intellectually (if I was needed in that way). The amount and type of change my counterpart is looking for doesn’t align with the amount and type of change I was hoping and expecting to be a part of. This isn’t a problem, it’s just a reality that I’m having to face. I’m needed, but not as much as I’d like to be, and I’m not trying to sound vain or narcissistic or whatever—I really wish my services and skills were being put to better use because my counterparts wanted to get as much out of me as they could before my time is up. I want to give as much as possible, but you can’t give what won’t or can’t be accepted.
But what’s becoming more important to me as I begin developing and refining the reality of my service and its future is that giving my energy where it’s needed and wanted is what’s going to help me finish my assignment most honorably and what’s going to help my work sustain once I go home. I can’t spend two years expecting to create sustainability by pushing people to change things that are culture, things that are misunderstood and easily misinterpreted by me. [An example: I try to set an example of what a teacher’s role ‘should be’ by erasing the white board myself, but this action actually makes my students feel guilty, uncomfortable, and disrespectful. I can’t change and I don’t want to waste my time trying. Another example: I won’t change the fact that my counterpart will use the LKS workbook (the error-filled English practice book) as long as the school forces students to buy it, no matter how much I bring in outside materials and better, more authentic and correct texts. I can teach her how to supplement her curriculum content and I must help her develop strategies for working within the system that isn’t quite ready to change, though it will eventually, and drastically. Using the LKS helps her feel that she’s honoring her students’ purchases, conforming to school culture standards, and doing her civic duty as a federally employed teacher responsible for working within the state curriculum.] What I can do is help people change what they’re ready to change, what they’re capable of changing, and what is culturally realistic for them to change. These changes may be small, and that may mean I don’t feel as needed as I’d like to be.
But my little kids need and want my energy, every bit of it. And it takes all of my energy to make sure I give them enough of the right kind of attention and support, help raise them well, and help them make enough gains now so that when I’m gone they can continue succeeding. This is vain: they need to interact with and learn as much from me while I’m here if they’re going to survive the school system here and manage to learn as efficiently as I know they can (especially about English and thinking critically). Giving them a leg up or a head start is the best thing I can do for them—the daily interactions I have with them are part of my service, even though I gain just as much as I’m hoping they do; feeling needed is what makes dealing with the cultural fatigue of the rest of my life manageable.
I know that no matter how stressed or frustrated or pissed off I am, I can walk around the corner and be with my best friends: the cultural fatigue evaporates. They’ve always got time for me and are always happy to see me. I don’t feel any of the strain or “cautious uncertainty”* that I do when I interact with teenagers and adults or any of the guilt I feel when I take ‘too much’ personal time alone in my room. But I’m not using them for my own happiness: by being with them, I can perform my service in its most pure and natural sense: spending energy with people I love and who love me, helping them grow and learn, actually exchanging energy, and savoring every second of it. I think the instances when I feel that I’m not doing work because I’m a PCV but just as a person helping other people are the best, most genuine moments of my life here and the truest manifestation of what I want to do. Mutual benefit is always win-win. I feel these things most acutely when I’m with my little friends.
Basically, we volunteers have the right to be cheesed. We’ve got the right to feel anger and frustration, even if daily. We don’t have to apologize for something outside our control: the exhaustion, the daily grind of being a stranger in a strange land, the cultural fatigue. But we’ve also got the right to bliss: something that keeps us going, helps us get through the day, reminds us why we’re here, something that makes us full of love. We’ll still be rollercoasting all over the place for the majority of the hours in a day, but our memories will be rose-tinted; I already know that what I’ll remember most about this country isn’t the things that drive me crazy, but the kids and the community and respect I feel with and for them. All of their Spirit and Love.

Snowflakes and Mecca

This blog is really about two different things –making paper snow flakes and visiting the homes of people who have been to Mecca.


At my school, and I think it’s the standard practice at all schools, the students must pay to take the semester exams. The ones who don’t have the money are given a paper waiver and their parents must pay next week or they won’t get their report cards. Each student is assigned a test number. All the classrooms become test rooms and every desk has a paper glued to it saying which student is assigned to that seat. All my student desks are small tables with a shelf a big as a drawer underneath. Two students sit at each desk in wooden chairs. Each desk has two students but they are in different grades. For example all grade 10 students would be on the right side of each desk and all grade 11 students would be on the left side of each desk. This is done so students can’t look at the paper of the person next to them and copy their work.

I saw a list of teachers authorized to give the exams and grade the papers. My name was not on the list, so I am not allowed to “proctor” an exam by myself. I go with different teachers and help them by making sure each student has the correct test, fill in the dot type answer sheet and scrap paper. All Math tests are given at one time. All English tests are given at a different time and the time is specified on the corner of the national test. However the bells at my school are handled by various different people so we approximate the national schedule.

I walk into the classroom, make sure the students begin with a 3 or 4 minute long Arabic prayer, which I have been practicing saying with them, then we hand out the papers and every student has to sign their name on an official form showing that they are present for the exam. The teacher signs this same paper on 2 places.

Then the adventure begins. Generally the students are quiet for the first 45 minutes or so. Some of the exams are for 90 minutes, others are 2 hours. The tests are hard. The English one had massive amounts of vocabulary that we hadn’t covered in class. One teacher told me, “Actually, Oma, the students are forbidden to cheat.” That’s the dilemma.

Some teachers read magazines during the test. Others send text messages on their cell phones. As the week progresses, some of them use the time to enter grades onto various different forms. I made up my mind that I would occupy my time by cutting out paper snowflakes. I cut them out of scrap paper and tape them to the windows of the classroom where I am assisting. I walk around the class and sometimes that is a deterrent to the cheating. I let the teacher in charge make the decision about what she will tolerate in that classroom. Sometimes it’s painful for me to witness the amount of what our western morals would call “dishonesty.” But I personally know that I can’t change any one’s morals and it appears to me that helping your neighbor is a cultural norm here in Indonesia. Some teachers are more lenient than others. Some classes are more blatant than others. Sometimes it’s so noisy as the students ask each other questions, that the students themselves are trying to shush the talkers. Sometimes they are fairly well behaved for the majority of the test period. Sometimes it feels like a group effort is happening right in front of me and it’s all I can do to concentrate on my own task at hand.

The students are fascinated with paper snowflakes. They watch me cut them out and tape them to the windows and sometimes hold out their hands asking for them. My thought is that the first people who hand in their tests early are generally not cheating as much as the ones who wait. I give snowflakes to the individual students who turn in their papers early. When the test is done I teach every one who wants to learn, how to fold and cut them. I always bring 2 pairs of scissors and sometimes my fellow teacher will make a few.

During an average test I make approximately 50 snowflakes. I’ve gotten pretty fast. So there are now paper snowflakes decorating the windows of various classrooms and the teacher room at my school. I also put them all over my mirror in my bedroom. It’s the only Christmas decoration I have.

Christmas is not big in my city. Where I live the people are mostly Muslim. The only other sign of Christmas is a Christmas tree with lights in my church and red, green and orange (?) crepe paper hanging from the rafters. There may be Christmas trees in other churches, I don’t know. Last Sunday we sang Indonesian words about Bethlehem and the birth of the child of Allah to the tune of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Next week, for Christmas, I will go to the regional capital and meet up with the other volunteers. There are 16 volunteers who will be together – 2 of us have visitors from the states and won’t be joining the group. We’re playing the gift exchange game – a traditional favorite with my family, where each person brings a gift and you pick one wrapped gift but can exchange it for an already opened gift if you want. The game gets pretty lively as people swap and trade (sometimes reluctantly) for various gifts.

Then in the evening we’ll have Christmas dinner at the home of our assistant country director. That’s really nice of Betsy. She and Joyce, the financial officer are hosting a big PC volunteer party and then inviting all the staff for desert. It’s really great to be a part of this first Peace Corps group in Indonesia!

On Dec 26th, I’ll return to my site for a day, and then go to a 3 day overnight English camp at my sister Madrasah (Islamic High School) where Angela teaches. The students and teachers at my school have been preparing stories and drama and poems and songs that they will perform at the English camp. Then Angela and I will go to spend vacation time over New Year’s on the island of Lombok, which is supposed to be like what Bali was 30 years ago. We’ll meet up with 5 other PC Volunteers for the first 3 days.

The only other Christmas item I have is an electronic advent calendar that my friends Corky and Kathy sent me from Salt Lake City. Every day I get to click on a different part of the winter scene and some Christmas music plays and I watch a little skit about Christmas in a rural village. Many times I have taken my computer to school and let the teachers “play” with the advent calendar. They like to click on the presents and pick out the wrapping paper. But they do not understand why there are so many dogs in the scene. Muslims are forbidden to have dogs and generally people avoid the few dogs that are around. If there is a dog on my street, everyone I greet will warn me, “There’s a dog up ahead.”

So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I don’t want to carry my computer around with me and I don’t know if I’ll be able to access the internet for the next few weeks.


On a totally non related topic, I had a very interesting Thursday. A notice was written on the teacher white board that something would be happening at 11:00. We were all told to come to school early so we could get the testing done early so we go to the “haji” celebrations. When ever I asked what it was all about I couldn’t get a clear answer, something about visiting people and Mecca. I told people I wanted to go but I was concerned that I can’t ride a motorcycle (Peace Corps rules) and people told me that the places were too far to walk. Three different English speaking teachers told me that maybe I would be tired and go home. I walked out of the teacher room feeling pretty sad. I really did want to participate. Outside was a rental van and many of the teachers were getting into it. I walked up to the group and they told me there wasn’t any room. I asked if it was because I was Christian and they said “Never mind.” This is the usual translation of literally, “No what what.” and it can also mean, “No problem.” One teacher suggested I ask the vice principal for a ride in his car. Now, when I’ve been politely informed several times that the answer is “No” I generally stop asking, but I really did want to go so I asked for the fifth time and he was glad to let me come! Other people piled in his car and we headed off for a 6 hour adventure. It began to dawn on me that the teachers were trying to give me an excuse if I didn’t want to come. The “Oh, Oma, I think you will be too tired.” Was their way of saying that if they were my age, they would be too tired and would want a good reason to stay at home.

But what a cultural trip! We stopped at 6 different houses where teachers or parents of teachers or committee member at our school had just returned from the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca. As we approached each house, men went one way and women went the other way. We were fed bowls of real food (rice, vegetables and some meat) and then went to a different part of the house, still separated by sexes and sat on the floor or one time we sat in chairs in front of lots of different snacks: raisins, dates, cookies, candies, garlic little chips and lots of other things. Little “shot” glasses filled with water from Mecca were passed to each guest. Many homes had banner with pictures of the pilgrims and scenes of Mecca in the background. The host or hostess would begin with an Arabic prayer and then talk about their deeper relationship with Allah. (I think.) I know some of these teachers and I have to tell you, they were remarkably calm and peaceful! The Mecca returnees were all dressed in white and we would shake the hands and rub cheeks with the women of the house and bow to the men as we entered the house and when we left. Watching them and listening to them you really could see the change in their demeanor.

As we filed out after the prayers and blessings we were given a gift bag. Some of them had a dish with a package of dry noodles and some prayer beads; others had bars of soap and pamphlets of Arabic / Indonesian payers. At one home we each got a prayer rug! Some presents were in cloth bags with draw strings. Others were in printed paper bags with pictures and names of the Mecca returnees on the front.

I asked about the expense. The teachers in my car all agreed that going to Mecca was very expensive and although it is one of the 5 requirements of being a Muslim, they were all praying that some day they would be rich enough to afford to go and then return and put on a big feast and give presents to hundreds of people. And I do mean hundreds. There were about 75 people in my group and as we approached each house, we would wait for the group in front of us to be finished and then we would join the food line and then go to the prayer place. I know several days are set aside for the celebrations. When I got home and showed my ibu-mama all my loot (and gave her the food and dishes) she showed me that the night before she had been to one of the homes and had the same presents.

And I should also tell you that we stopped at a mosque so that the teachers could do one of the 5 daily ritual washings and kneeling and bowing prayers before we continued on our journey to pray at the individual houses.

The people who teach at my school live anywhere from a few minutes to an hour away from the school. The teachers in my car were impressed when I pointed out where I had walked. I could have made it on foot to 3 different homes, if I had directions, but the other 3 were way too far away. But then I would have missed the whole “group” thing. All the teachers were wearing their blue uniforms and jilbabs. I have figured out which days are tan days and which days are blue days and generally I wear something that blends in with the group. And of course, I wear the appropriate color jilbab. As we approached each house we could see the sea of blue that showed that the other teachers had already made it there.

After the last stop the teachers in my car asked me to teach them an English song that they could teach their children. I taught them, “One little, two little, three little Indians.” I probably should have said “native Americans,’ oh well. I needed a very simple song that they could remember. The whole car was laughing when they tried to sing it really fast and then tried to sing it backwards (10, 9, 8…)

The teachers asked me about the snowflakes and I had some pre-made as examples in my backpack. They asked if they could take them home! Who would have thought that recycling scrap paper into paper snowflakes would be such a fascinating thing!

Love and hugs and jingle bells and candy canes to all of you!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Popcorn Surprise

Thanksgiving Eve

I ate my first cockroach yesterday. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I had skipped lunch and arrived home with a sealed bag of popcorn. I had to return to school in 2 hours so I decided to just lay on my bed and read a National Geographic and eat popcorn. As I was absent mindedly munching away I noticed a texture that wasn’t popcorn. I looked inside the popcorn bag. There was one half of a cockroach covered in ants. I spit the mouthful of chewed up popcorn and the other half of the cockroach into my hand, walked outside and threw it away. Then I washed my hand and took some bottled water in my mouth and rinsed it out several times. Then I ate one of the little packets of M&M’s peanuts Halloween candy that my grandchildren had sent me to fully get rid of the cockroach taste.

Then I took a mandi bucket bath and got dressed to return to school for “Reading of the Qur’an” to celebrate my school’s 15th birthday. Earlier in the day I had received an official letter from the Principal, with his official seal and his signature and my copy had my name on it, stating that this event would be from 4pm till 7pm. I arrived at 4pm and was the first person there. Around 4:15 the custodial staff arrived and I helped them sweep and pick up trash. Then I sat on the steps outside the room where the Principal and some men teachers were reading the Qur’an (in Arabic) into a microphone. At 5:00 some women teachers arrived so I followed them. They went to the covered picnic table area next to our canteen and began assembling snack boxes. First you fold the decorative cardboard box, then you line it with brown paper waxed on one side, then you add a measured scoop of about a cup of white rice, one piece of fried semi barbeque flavored chicken, one slice of cucumber, one lettuce leaf with a sprig of basil, add one 1” by 2” little plastic baggie of sambal hot sauce, cover with another piece of brown paper and put a crupik – (fish / shrimp paste homemade cracker) on top, close the box, put it into a plastic bag and knot it and stack them 3 high. All this is done by the women and children in an assembly line type fashion, but if you get bored with folding and inserting tabs to make boxes, you can scoop rice or add cucumbers or help at whatever stage in the process there seems to be a bottleneck or do whatever your friend is doing so you can be near her and gab. I think we made about 200 boxes. Then we went to an area under a big (150 feet by 50 ft.) tent that had outdoor carpeting. We took our shoes off so we could walk on the outdoor carpet and all the women sat together at the far end. The men who had begun the initial reading of the Qur’an arrived and were joined by more men. We each received a little pamphlet in Arabic and the official welcoming and recognizing everyone was beginning. I stayed for the first half hour but by then it was 7pm and I was hungry. I had thrown away the rest of the popcorn and cockroach snack, so I told the women next to me that I was going home. One other woman had already left with her small child. They jumped up and handed me one of the meal boxes and a snack box with 2 kinds of cake and sweet rice. I put them in my backpack and began the 20 minute walk in the dark to my home. I stopped and bought a piece of chicken that I like better than the barbeque kind, ate that, gave my two boxes to my Ibu-mama and went to sleep.

Thanksgiving Day

I woke up at 3am. That’s a little early, even for me. Usually I wait till I hear the loudspeaker prayers that begin around 3:30am. But I’ve got some itchiness and sometimes I wake up and can’t fall asleep. It’s either some bugs biting me or scabies, which is little mites that burrow into your skin and lay eggs. It’s their fecal matter that people are allergic to and you usually wake up at night with a big urge to scratch. Yesterday, before I ate the popcorn I had bought a can of bug spray and my plan was to fumigate my room today and seal it up for several hours. I called my sons and left a Happy Thanksgiving message on their cell phones. That’s one great thing about Indonesian time – 3 am is 3pm in Texas, or maybe Boston now that it’s daylight savings time. Any way I wasn’t sure which time zone my traveling children were in anyway. I sealed up the room, did the big bug spray thing and went to school dressed in my fanciest outfit.

Because, I know you shouldn’t start a new paragraph with “because.” But, I kind of like to be naughty… because today is a very special day at my school! I had been asked to sing a song for 1000 people! We were having a Happy 15th Birthday Party for my school.

When I arrived I said “Happy Thanksgiving” to all my teacher friends and lots of my student friends. I was given a schedule of events and there at 1:00pm, was Oma Colleen. Okay. We began at 7am with prayers by selected speakers then a full assembly reading of the Qur’an. Then a sweet little old man who looks like he’s in his 70’s, who has seen me before and is head of the birthday celebration committee started to speak. He loves to sprinkle English into his speech and referred to me maybe 5 or 6 times. Most of the time what he said about me wasn’t true. Example: “Oma says you must discipline.” Or “Oma says “Money is time.” Every time he used my name I nodded and smiled. When he was done and came back and sat directly in front of me I told him, “Thank you, very much.” I really do appreciate that he uses some English. He’s an inspiration to the students. The student groups singing religious songs for several hours were really great! When the mayor of our county started into his second half hour, I excused myself and went to the bathroom. I came back to join in the clapping when he was finished.

Then the student announcers were saying my name and something else. I glanced at my cell phone clock. It was only 10:30. They motioned me forward. I walked up on the 3 foot elevated stage with 10 microphones and the announcers left. The piano player who practiced twice with me during the week, started playing the music. And I said, in Indonesian to the students: “I need your help.” And it was clear I really did! I started on the stage but then took the microphone into the audience and all 579 of my students and the other 300 students who have heard us sing this song many times and the 50 teachers and the 50 – 100 honored guests all joined me in “It’s a Small World After All.” It was fun.

The students at my school have amazing talent. This past week we have had volley ball tournaments and soccer tournaments and art tournaments where student groups compete with turning trash into art work. We’ve also had Arabic singing tournaments and drama contests and rock groups. Our best groups did a karate- dance routine and ice chopping demo and played the best rock music in Indonesia. Kids were dancing by the stage. Then the teachers took over and sang love ballads to each other, which the kids loved. Our men teachers did a really good job with a drum / guitar number too. We finished the day by unveiling a banner proclaiming that our school has a new name! We are now the Something, Something, Something Beautiful Campus of the Madrasah National Islamic School in Wlingi. We had a birthday cake with candles and the principal blew them all out during an amazing rain / thunder storm that did NOT knock the power out. I counted 22 speakers about 4 feet high. When I say, we PARTY, we party LOUD. My school is adjacent to rail road tracks and I have to tell you that we were LOTS louder than the train today.

At 2pm it was raining so hard the teacher in charge went up on stage and said we should call it quits. I ran back to the teacher lounge, put on my poncho, and walked the 20 minutes home in the rain. Inside my room the kill was good – dead flies, mosquitoes and a few of my less than tasty friends. I ate another bag of popcorn because once again I didn’t get any lunch. First I poured it into a Tupperware bowl that my Returned Peace Corps Volunteer daughter had said would be a good thing to bring with me to Indonesia. She was right. I could clearly see there were no cockroaches in this batch. I ate it all and now I’m waiting for my Thanksgiving Dinner.

I just got some texts from my fellow PC buddies.
Gio: “Well, eating thanksgiving dinner alone officially sucks! :- / How’d everyone elses day go? I want turkey and family…def going out 2 buy ice cream tonight!
Erika: Happy Thanksgiving guys. If you pretend REALLY hard, you can make your rice taste like turkey! No, really, try it:)

For the record, I had fried rice, a fried egg, lettuce leaves, tomato slice and semi pickled / fermented cucumber chunks. I ate alone, like I usually do. I pictured my family sitting in the 5 other chairs around the table with me and I tried to make the rice taste like turkey. I thought about the things that I’m grateful for: having a family, even if they are far away; having food to eat; having a place to sleep and having good friends who understand that we gave up a lot to come here.

On Saturday I am going to go to the US Consul General’s home 6 hours away and eat a turkey dinner with Americans, spend the night at the Peace Corps hotel, which may be where I picked up the crawling/burrowing bugs, then return to my site. I’m grateful I have this life in Indonesia.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pink mushrooms

This morning for breakfast I had soup with pink mushrooms, carrot slices, green leaves and stems (maybe cassava) cauliflower and garlic. And I had white rice (of course) and deep fried shrimp with tails but no heads or eyes or antennas. Plus I had juice. Maybe it was an orange juice, guava juice combo.

What I’ve realized is that the varieties of food are different everywhere. Don’t know why it took me so long to figure out why peanuts don’t exactly taste like peanuts. Whatever variety of peanuts we have in the US are different from the kind that grows here. These are smaller and taste a little bit like soy nuts. The word for peanut is the same as the word for seed and nut. So I think I remember what peanuts and soy nuts taste like and I think these are peanuts with a soy taste, but they may be soy nuts with a peanut taste.

The mushrooms here are amazing. They are lacy and big and yummy. Today was the first time I had pink ones.

Meals are always a surprise. I enjoy lifting up the fly cover – a large plastic bowl – net and seeing what is under there. That’s what I will eat for the day. Many Peace Corps assignments include an individual house or room where the volunteer gets to fix her or his own food. Here in Indonesia, we are assigned to live with families who fix our food.

My daughter sent me some of my favorite herbal tea from America. In many ways I am a like a helpless baby. I have been forbidden to turn on the stove. The reason is that there were many stoves that were exploding in Indonesia and my family doesn’t trust me to turn it on. I think I’ll make sun tea – just put the tea bag in a water bottle and leave it in the sun. The advantage of not fixing my own food is that I have more time for other things and I eat less. The disadvantage is that it’s just another little aspect of life that I have no control over.

That’s the challenge of Peace Corps – accepting the things you cannot change and changing the things you can. I pick what I want to change carefully. Usually it begins with changing my own mind. This is a lot harder than it sounds.

Here’s your assignment for the day. Pick anything. Then change your mind about how you think about it.

Welcome to my life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Animal Sacrifice

I will share my Experience first, and then give my Commentary later.

Today I watched a cow and 4 goats get slaughtered. The Arabic name is Qurban. According to the Qur’an the animal to be slaughtered could be a cow, a camel, a sheep or a goat.

When I arrived at school there was a big black cow tied to a tree at the edge of the flag ceremony field. I watched as a motorcycle arrived with a 3 foot by 3 foot platform on top of the rear part of the seat. This is a standard way to make a “truck like motorcycle” in Indonesia. 2 goats were sitting on the back with their feet tied. The motorcycle driver lifted each goat off and tied them to other trees near the cow.

The goats and cow were in great shape. I was told that this is a part of the ritual. The animals had no blemishes. They were big and fat and well groomed with perfect hair, no poop on them, fresh out of the bath. The students milling around commented on how big the cow was and also that it was black. They said this with wide eyes, “Oma, it is big and black.”

At 7:00 all the students were assembled on the flag ceremony field. A man who is not a teacher was telling the other men how to dig a hole near the cow. They made a depression in the dirt about a foot across and 6 inches deep. The tree that the cow was attached to had a post about 10 feet away and there was a cross beam about 5 feet off the ground.

One of the teachers called the assembly to order. The students were all standing in rows behind the male members of each class. Each class representative yelled at his class to make them stand straight then in unison they all saluted the teacher. This is the same formation they use every other Monday when we have a school wide flag ceremony.

The motorcycle arrived again with 2 more goats on the back. The students cheered. I was standing about 5 feet away from the animals in a row with the other teachers. As the goat delivery man was taking the goats to tie them to the next trees in the line, two of the goats tried to have sex. The students started laughing. The teachers ran up and pulled the goats apart and the teachers shook their heads. The goats were tied in a row about 3 feet away from each other. They were eating some grass while the teacher on the platform in front of the students made a short speech with a microphone.

The man in charge directed two of his helpers to rope the cow’s feet and pull them sideways underneath the cow so that the cow was now lying on its side. The helpers pulled the cow so that the rope around its neck was still attached to the tree and its body was pulled out so that its neck was over the hole that had been dug. A board was put under the cows head. The men began to stretch the cow’s neck adjusting the ropes so that there was about a 6 inch place between the rope that was being pulled to the front and the rope that was being pulled to the back. The teacher leading the ceremony began chanting and all 900 students and teachers were repeating “Allah akbar.” (God is great.) The man directing the stretching of the cow took a foot long knife and cut the cow’s throat. He put a sack in front of the cut so that the blood wouldn’t squirt on to the teachers. The blood began flowing into the hole in the ground. I watched as the heart continued to pump the blood out of the cow. I was standing 5 feet away from the dying cow.

Even when the head was severed almost all the way off, the cow still continued to jerk sometimes violently for about 15 minutes after its throat had been severed. I could see the cow’s windpipe had been cut in two. The cow didn’t make a sound other than thrashing around.

While the cow was still bleeding and thrashing and the crowd was chanting “Allah akbar,” the man teacher who sits next to me in the teacher room walked up to the first goat in the line. The helpers grabbed its legs and head and pulled it so that its neck was exposed. They lifted the goats head from the ground and put the board under it, next to the deeper hole that had been dug. My teacher friend took the big knife and cut the first goat’s throat. It bled out in about 3 minutes. The men threw the goat to the side and the 2nd goat was brought over to the blood hole. They held its legs and head so that it’s neck was over the blood hole and put the board under its head and my teacher friend cut the neck of the 2nd goat. The dead 2nd goat was thrown on top of the fist goat. The cow’s legs were still jerking. The two remaining goats were still eating grass. The students and teachers were still chanting being led by the teacher with the microphone.

The last 2 goats were killed the same way and their bodies thrown on top of the goat pile. When all the animals were dead, or at least the blood was only slowly trickling out of them, the assembly was dismissed and I walked back to the teacher room.

In front of the school office a large plastic tarp had been spread out with a table and black plastics bags with our school name on them. The names of the 4 teachers who had paid for the goats were listed on a large paper.

A man was carrying a hatchet over to the goat and cow kill area. The animals were being skinned. The men used the hatchet to cut up the animals. All the bones and the heads were cut apart. Some of the meat was hanging from the cross beam and some of it was on a tarp on the ground.

As the meat was cut it was put in a wheelbarrow and taken over to the table where female teachers and students cut it into approximately 4 inch cubes and put them into plastic bags and tied them shut. I had read that 1/3 of the meat goes to the family who paid for the animal, 1/3 goes to their community and friends and 1/3 goes to the poor. In class the day before vouchers had been handed out to some of the students. I saw that there were some parents who had the vouchers and were waiting near the final meat cutting and bagging area. They were smiling as they took home 2 bags of meat for each voucher.

It took several hours for all the meat to be cut and bagged. Teachers and students took their shoes and socks off and walked barefoot on the tarp while they cut and distributed the meat into different piles. During that time there were competitions in each classroom for middle school students who had been invited to our school and for our own best high school students who were competing with other Madrasahs (Islamic high schools) in my county. It was called an Olympiad.

Several hours later, I walked into the teacher room and saw that there were 2 bags of meat on my desk.

The Reflection
Repeat of the standard Peace Corps disclaimer – My thoughts are mine alone. I am quite sure that every Peace Corps person would have a different reaction to this day. I don’t intend to offend Muslims, Christians, Jews, Indonesians, or any one else. These are just my own thoughts. I love Indonesia and I’m glad I had the chance to see this Idul Adha day up close and personal.

As I was watching all this all I could think about was how Abraham was ready to do this to his own son. What kind of a God asks someone to cut the throat of their child and then at the last minutes says, forget it, you showed you were willing, now here’s a ram caught in the bushes for you to sacrifice instead. Christians, Muslims, and Jews – we all have this God! The idea of anyone, God included, asking you to do this to your only son, seems unfathomable to me. I know the New Testament God is the God of love, and killing is regulated so that you don’t do this to your relatives, but this experience woke up some part of my being that had been sleep walking in this life time.

I thought of the Aztecs cutting out the beating hearts of people. I thought about hunters cutting open animals they had killed. I’ve never actually watched something get killed. It was brutal. It took a long time for the animal to die. I suppose it was “merciful” in that it was done fast so they didn’t suffer as much. But it’s not quick. It was hard for me to see the difference between, now it is dying and now it is dead. I wanted to know, I wanted my mind to say, now this is no longer an animal. Now it is food. But I couldn’t draw the line clearly.

The chanting while all this was happening felt strange. I usually join in the Arabic prayers. I couldn’t this time. It was just too much. The people screaming, “God is great” when the animal should be screaming just didn’t seem right. The silence of the animals while they were dying was difficult. They were so compliant. I suppose they had no choice and the men were very efficient at getting them in the right positions but I wanted them to run away or cry out and of course they didn’t.

I was watching the sacrifice and the people around me and trying to distance myself from the voice in my head, but the voice was very loud. All animals that I eat have to be killed. Killing is brutal. For the first time in my life I had a gut level reaction in solidarity with vegetarians and Buddhists.

I took the meat home and I have eaten meat since I watched this animal sacrifice. I’m not a vegetarian. But I’m not a blind meat eater anymore. What we do to each other in the name of food, or religion or survival! May God have mercy on us! I’m glad I’ve joined the Peace Corps. I wonder what the world would be like if we really lived from the concept of Peace. Can anything live without killing something else? Even the bacteria kill each other.

This day of animal sacrifice has spawned a lot of questions and not many answers.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I speak with President Obama

The night before the event we met with Robb, our contact person from the American Embassy. He was explaining to us that there would be a lot of waiting around, that we would travel in an Embassy bus and that we should address Michelle Obama as Mrs. Obama. He got a text message and said, please excuse me. He walked outside the room. The next day, when we were waiting for the bus after we had met with the President and listened to his speech, he told us that this message caught him off guard It said that the FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) would not meet with the Peace Corps volunteers. He said his heart sank. But the message continued – The POTUS (Pres. Of the United States) wants to meet the volunteers. That night he made the decision not to tell us in advance.

On Nov 10th I woke up at 3:50am, recalled a dream about a person who died and then went back to the barbeque he had attended before his death and got to speak to everyone there and then came back again and again until finally his wife said, you don’t need to come back again. I’m writing all these random things into this account because I just want to give my grandchildren a little taste of what my life was like for one very important day. I took a shower and listened to the mosque prayers that began at 4:10.
Gio, my friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer was my roommate and my fashion consultant and had figured out exactly what I should wear. I got dressed in my best batik (made in Indonesia) shirt, black dress pants, my Michelle Obama golden brown shoes (which I had bought in Salt Lake City because I suspected we were going to meet Mrs. Obama – they had told us to bring closed toe dress shoes.) This was the first time in Indonesia that I had worn panty hose. I put makeup on and fixed my hair in a long braid. I wore my gold necklace, a bead necklace, and earrings. The whole time I was getting dressed I was thinking – I want my granddaughter to have these beads and my grandson to get my ID badge and I need something for the one new grandbaby on the way and maybe I’ll get lucky and get another one, so I need to wear enough stuff so that I can share it later with all my grandchildren.

Gio was brushing the mold off her shoes. Downstairs at breakfast several of the other volunteers read the notes I was keeping and they told me that Travis, Scott and Truong all wiped the mold off their shoes too.

AT 4:50 we checked out of our rooms and left our bags in Betsy’s room – she’s the assistant country director and had extended her check out time so we’d have a place to keep our luggage and a place to change when we returned.

The hotel had breakfast ready for us at 5:00. The thing I remember most about this breakfast was there were tater tots, real American tasting tater tots and cereal and a yogurt drink that was so delicious. For so long breakfast has been rice, fried rice, some vegetables and protein like a piece of fried chicken or some beef - it’s just fun to eat something different like cereal.

Then we boarded the Embassy bus. There were 18 volunteers, Ken, the Peace Corps country director for Indonesia and Robb, the Embassy person who has been co-coordinating this adventure since it started in March. President and Mrs. Obama had requested meeting us in March when they were originally scheduled to come to Indonesia, but it got rescheduled for June and then again for November.

On the trip to University of Indonesia, Jakarta, we passed many trains with people sitting on top of the train. I was later told this is a common way to travel because you don’t have to have a ticket to sit on top of a train, but it’s pretty dangerous.

We also passed lots of cows, buffalos and goats for sale. Next week is Idul Adha to commemorate the time when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son and when he raised the knife, God sent him an animal in the bushes instead. Abraham is one of the prophets that Muslims recognize and so is Jesus. They believe that Mohammad was the last prophet of God. Many Muslims kill a sacrificial animal and then cook the meat and distribute it to the poor for this holiday. Some of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers have seen pictures of the slaughter at their school last year. I asked at my school and I was told that we will kill one cow and 4 goats on Thursday by slicing their throats. Wow!

On the bus we are each given a ticket to the event. Mine is marked as number 4511. We were told that 6000 people had been given tickets. The ticket said “November 10, 2010 Speech by the President of the United States, Barack Obama University of Indonesia, Depok Campus Depok 16424 – Indonesia gates open at 6:00 a.m. Please limit personal items. For security reasons, do not bring bags. Signs, banners and umbrellas are not permitted. This ticket is free and not for sale. We request that you arrive by bus with your group, or that you come on foot. Individual vehicles cannot be accommodated."

The badge around my neck has the Peace Corps symbol – an American flag with the stars turning into doves and my name – Colleen Young, Tijeras, NM.

As we near the University I see lots more police men with rifles. There is a sign that says Salamat Datang (Welcome) and a picture of President Obama.

In the bus next to us there are young people who look like University students. One of them holds his ticket up to the window of his bus and we show him ours. We all smile. The placard on his bus says “Invited Bus.” It has a picture of American and Indonesian flags.

When we get to the University all the traffic stops so that the police can slide a dolly with a large mirror under every vehicle to check for bombs. This is also what happens when you arrive at any shopping mall in a private vehicle. Your car gets the undercarriage checked for explosives.

We are driven down a winding avenue with palm trees planted every 300 feet. We go past a lake with a park around the edge and what looks to be a natural jungle area. All the traffic is going one way to a drop off place in front of a big building.

We get out of the bus and put our cell phones, cameras, passports, and tickets on the luggage examination machine and walk through the airport type security detectors and women are directed to women police people and men are directed to men police people and every single person is wanded and patted down by a guard. Some people are given a stamp on their hand. We are escorted to a different place to stand.

A man comes up to our Embassy escort person, Robb, and asks him if he personally know every one of us. Robb says yes. I remember back to last night and how he knew all kinds of things about us. He knew that I was from New Mexico originally and had lived in Utah. He told me that he recognized us from our pictures. I think he knew that he was going to be asked that question and made a point of knowing each of us personally. We were escorted past people who are waiting and follow our guide into the secure area. About 50 feet from the main auditorium where President Obama will speak there was a tent set up with a sign – Peace Corps Event Tent.

We went inside and there was a flag of the United States on one side and a flag of Indonesia on the other in front of some potted plants. The banner over head read
Peace Corps - A new partnership between the American and Indonesia people. And a picture of the American flag flowing into the Indonesia flag. The tent was 17 feet by 35 feet, Noel paced it off and it had an air conditioner!

Some of us girls go use the restroom and we get to talking about the American secret service people that we’ve seen. This is a direct quote from Gio concerning what she thought she should say to the security guards. “I haven’t seen a man as fine as you in 8 months.”

Nisha shows me her 4 inch heels which she bought in a record tracking 10 minute shopping spree. Even with her heels on she’s still the shortest. She says, “No Angela is the shortest.”

Diana, Gio and Bart are all wearing their school uniform batik shirts. Oh no, Gio has a wardrobe malfunction and has to fix the safety pin that is holding the front of her shirt together.

We waited in the tent for several hours as the auditorium filled up with guests.

In the tent with us was the woman from the White house, Deliah Jackson, who was our contact person, Robb from the Embassy and Ken Puvak, our Peace Corps country director and the 18 volunteers.

We sit on the indoor/outdoor carpeting and play 20 questions to pass the time. Travis starts with a sports figure. We don’t guess him. It turns out to be Lance Armstrong. The others are Santa Claus, Robb and Pa Habib, our contact person from the University of Mohammadia in Malang. Then we guess state animals. Michigan is the white tailed deer. No one knows the New Mexico state question even though I give them a hint and tell them that it’s about colors. The state question is “Red or Green?” and it referrers to what kind of chili you want on your meal. Sarah tells us that the population of Hawaii used to me much greater than it is now, that the Mori people wiped out the pacifist Mori-ori people. (I don’t know if I got all that right.) Then we talk about our best Christmas gifts ever. Andrea says hers was a Barbie Power Wheels jeep and it still runs, they recently painted it green and turned it into a John Deere for her little cousin.

Robb and Deliah have us try several configurations before she settles on the boys and tall volunteers standing on the risers in the back and the short volunteers in the front – we practiced how we would each shake the “Principals” hand. We were still anticipating meeting Mrs. Obama. At this point Deliah and Robb start referring to the “Principal” like when the “Principal” walks in, how to file out so that we all shake the “Principal” hand etc.

Robb had said that the White House requested meeting the Peace Corps volunteers and they could be accompanied by one person from the Peace Corps staff and that he wasn’t sure he would be allowed to remain in the tent when the Principal came. Betsy, our assistant country director and Wawan, our security director were not allowed to come with us on the bus. They told us that many events were cut out of the program but that the White House had insisted that it wanted to keep this meeting with our first group of Peace Corps volunteers in Indonesia in 45 years.

Occasionally a man with a curly wire going into his ear and a microphone opens the tent door and peeks inside. We are all standing exactly as we should be - ready for the picture with Michelle Obama. Someone says “I want his job.”

Then they said to be ready, it was “imminent,” the tent door flapped a little and I could see Pres. Obama outside. When he walked in, I was still anticipating meeting with Mrs. Obama. He had on a blue suit and a blue tie.

He said. “What a good looking group.” I like your batik (the native Indonesian cloth that all our shirts were made from.) He said. We’re really happy that you’re here. It’s really important what you are doing in Indonesia. I’m very proud of the work that you are doing. He then stepped into the space that we had left and his official photographer took several pictures. When the photo session was finished he turned and reached out his hand to the first person on the right and asked “What is your name and where are you from?” We each said our name and the state where we were from. Lukas said he was from Chicago and Obama asked him where in Chicago. President Obama is tall and I had to look up to look him in the eye, even though I was on a 6 inch riser. I said I was from the National Forest in New Mexico and he asked me if I was a forestry volunteer. I said, “No, I’m an English teacher.” He reached out and took each one of our hands as we told him our names. He skipped over Noel who was standing next to me and came back to her last – very sharp – not just going up and down the rows in order but shipping around a bit and not missing any one of us. He spoke a little more – He asked “How’s your Bahasa Indonesia?” We all answered with the Bahasa word for “good” and he understood. Then he walked up to Ken and Ken introduced himself as the country director and the President said, “Why weren’t you in the photo?” And then he came back to the group and invited Ken to stand with us and we took another photo with our Peace Corps country director and President Obama in the picture.

Obama told us that most Americans don’t know about Indonesia and what we tell them is important. That aspect of our service is an important part of our mission here. Then he asked if we all were teachers. Then President Obama said “Thank you for coming to Indonesia.” And all of us responded, “Thank You!” Then he turned and walked out of the tent. He had spent about 10 or 15 minutes with us exclusively.

Then we filed out of the tent and walked to our reserved seats. We were in the first three rows on the left about 50 feet away from the President. I sat on the first row to the left of the stage where Obama spoke.

The first words the President said were in Arabic “Assalamu alaikum.” The Islamic greeting. The audience loved it! He said "When I first came to this country; I felt that I was coming to a different world." He was a grade school student and lived in Jakarta for 3 years. He said that he remembered the men and women who made a foreign child feel like a friend. Back then the buildings were just a few stories tall and the beceks (bicycle vehicles with 2 passengers in a seat in front) and bemos (little mini vans for public transport) outnumbered cars. "I remember my house had a mango tree in front and I would fly kites and catch dragon flies." He talked about the common humanity of all people. His step father was a native Indonesian and had been raised a Muslim. He talked about the respect for all religions that is fostered in Indonesia. He talked about his little sister who was born here. His mother retired and kept retuning for 20 years to Indonesia. He was honored that the President of Indonesia had presented an award in her honor. He said he never anticipated that he would return to Jakarta as the President of the United States. He said that he used to run in fields with water buffalos and goats.

He mentioned that his step father watched his own brother die in the fight for Indonesian independence. He said that his step father was in the Indonesian army and there was a reluctance to speak about issues, but now Indonesia is a democracy and there is no turning back from democracy and its spirit of tolerance. He said in Indonesian “the unity of Indonesia" and the audience cheered. He spoke of the deep enduring partnership between Indonesia and the United States, a partnership of equals. He talked about the battle for Surabaya – 55 years ago today. He talked about the trust ensuring that children were treated equally whether they were from Ache or Java.

He spoke about Development and that we have an interest in each others success.

He spoke about religion and said, "It is a fundamental steeped in spirituality." He said that he wanted to repair Muslim relations around the world. He said no single speech can eradicate mistrust. There were planes overhead. The president said that America is not and never will be at war with Islam. That we have a shared interest in building peace in a war torn world. He spoke about Iraq and Afghanistan and said that the stakes are high in resolving these issues. He said that one whispered rumor can obscure the truth. He referred to Pagasila, the 5 points of Indonesian democracy. He said that in Indonesia, Islam flourishes, but so do other faiths. He said that he was a Christian and that he visited the Mosque in Jakarta that had been designed by a Christian architect. He said that the spark of the divine lives within all of us. Unity was more powerful than division.

I listened to the President talk about Development, Democracy and Religion. I think it was a good speech, not controversial, mainly stressing our mutual interests with Indonesia. Every time he said a word or a phrase in Bahasa Indonesia – and he did that about 8 times, the crowd went wild with clapping. It seemed to me that the audience responded best when he talked about bakso and sate – two Indonesian foods that he recalled fondly.

I later heard that his 3rd grade teacher in Jakarta had said that the first year he didn’t speak Indonesian, the second year he spoke it well and the third year he was living in Indonesia he had mastered it. The person who told me this was trying to encourage me to think that I might get better too.

I don’t think Obama has been back to Indonesia since he was a child. He mentioned that the Sarinah shopping center was the tallest building in Jakarta back then. Now there are huge buildings.

While the President was speaking there were men who only looked at the audience. They all had the curly wires in their ears and walkie talkies with mouthpieces.

At the end of his speech, the President walked off the stage and went into the crowd to shake hands with the people in the rows directly in front of him. We were on the front row off to the side behind the pillars. All the faces I could see in the audience directly in front of him were Indonesian.

After the president left, the audience stayed in their seats for several minutes. I assumed that the President was leaving in his helicopter. Then they let the audience leave. When we were outside waiting for our bus, Robb got all of us a President Obama T shirt. It has his picture on it and says "Welcome back Mas (Brother) Obama to Remarkable Indonesia."

When the bus returned us to our hotel, we all changed out our formal clothes and then most of us headed to the 10 minutes away Sarinah shopping center that Obama had mentioned. One last splurge for Burger King. Ah, big city life! A few hours of freedom, then we’re back on the bus for the trip to the airport, back to our Peace Corps hotel in Surabaya and then leaving the next day, returning to our sites.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tears in my throat

I haven’t written a real blog in a long time.

I want to be upbeat and insightful and contribute something to my little corner of the internet. The truth is that I’m having a hard time keeping the tears out of my throat. Life inside my skin is difficult right now.

And I can’t really point to the reason why.

It may be a part of the Peace Corps process.

Sadness is a part of it. I miss my family. I had no idea that not being present for my son’s wedding and now fully expecting that I will miss the birth of my grandchild would have such an impact.

And a level of worry has crept into my life. I thought by now that I would understand more about what is going on around me. I don’t. There are 5 additional people living in my house. The food is more erratic – my ibu-mama has been sick for the past week and has stopped cooking.

The week prior to that, I was sick and spent the time in bed and in the bathroom letting the food poisoning pass through me. I think food contamination is a better word, it doesn’t sound so ominous. The unofficial count was that 14 of the 18 volunteers experienced some form of it.

I got a letter from Peace Corps saying that no volunteer lives within 40km of the active volcano outside my window. Google earth and my maps tell me something different. I have no idea of the ramifications of that.

I no longer have my daily morning coffee support group. I don’t go to yoga. And my usual hour long meditation session on the Ipod broke the first week I was here.

This is the point where I reach into my soul and say, “You gave your word, you said you’d stay for 27 months, the path is just rocky right now, just keep walking.” I stubbed my toe the other day and the blood keeps soaking through the band aids. It’s a metaphor and a reality.

On the plus side:
I’ve become incredibly competent at my job. I love being a teacher. This past week I taught:
“Narrative text” based on a picture story from a Highlights magazine and pantomime to 5 different classes.
“Relief, pain, pleasure and request” using a set of cardboard sentences that I built into a game that the kids loved to 5 classes.
“Analytical exposition” to 2 classes where I simplified it into a lesson where the students wrote why TV is good and why TV is bad.
“Advertisement” lesson to 1 class – assisting the student teacher and making it fun for the kids
“Announcements and blurbs” to l class – assisting the student teacher with this one too.
And 1 other class where the student teacher passed out an incredibly complex story about “a buffalo, a tiger and a farmer” and I drew pictures on the board so that the students could follow along even though the vocabulary was beyond their comprehension.

And I taught a class on “English in the classroom” to the teachers and got them laughing and making up creative sentences.

I can take an incredibly complex piece of the curriculum and figure out what is essential and turn it into an adventure that the students and teachers and I all enjoy.

And I’m pleased that the Peace Corps Indonesia volunteers get to meet with President and Mrs. Obama this week.

I have lots of wonderful, surface level relationships with people who care about me.

Yet, I feel like I’m bobbing on the ocean. I have given up “home” – that place where people know who you are, where you go to rest and nourish yourself.

My optimistic spirit says that in all this painful birth giving process there’s got to baby somewhere. I think it exists on some level of my soul that I haven’t reached yet. I’m willing to keep going. But it doesn’t look pretty sometimes with tears in my throat and goo dripping out of my nose.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Family & The Sympathy Gift

Collins Family July 2009
(I'm holding Kira in her spot dress)

This is a reverse blog. It’s for all the people who read about my adventures in Indonesia and wonder about my family back in America. Here is a series of email about buying a sympathy gift for my brother-in-law. I edited out a little bit of it.

My family is the absolutely best, most wonderful, most supportive family in the world!
My 6 brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren who are spread from Boston to Seattle to Southern California are having a family reunion in Texas next month.

-----Original Message----- (from my sister)

Subject: Mac's Dad

Hi guys,

I'm sorry to say that I just got a call from Dolly that Mac's Dad passed
away last night. No details as of yet and Dolly is not sure if he had been
taken to the hospital or not. Mac happened to drive them home yesterday from Seattle and Dolly had encouraged him to spend the night rather than drive home to Aberdeen so he was there with them. I do not think that he had been sick but just became sick suddenly. His death was certianly not expected. Dolly just found out and on her way home from church and is going home quickly to pack up and leave for Aberdeen with Mei Le, Rowland, and their puppy Vegas.

Our love, prayers and support go out to Mac, Dolly and Mei Le as well as
Joyce (Mac's Mom) and Rowland in this time of sorrow.

Lots of love,

Sent from my iPad=

(from me to my family)
Subject: Re: Mac's Dad

I'm so sad to hear this. I'm sending my love to you, Dolly - Pinky, maybe
you can forward this. The internet is really weak here. I love you all and
miss you so much. In the meeting yesterday we talked about support and that
is the thing that our family is so good at giving to each other.
I love you guys so much. Colleen

(from my sister)
Subject: sympathy gift to Mac

Hi guys,
We just ordered a sympathy gift basket from Harry and David for Mac and sent
it from The Collins Clan - Colleen, Janeen, Kevin, Brian, Pinky, Boo and
families. Mark thought he would like that better than flowers. Total cost
was (with discount coupon) $56. Instead of sending us money you can buy us
a coke when we're in Texas.
Love you guys,
Pinky and Mark

(from my brother)
Subject: RE: sympathy gift to Mac
Thanks Pink.
I volunteer to buy Mark some beer to celebrate his "catching a big Texas
fish out of a pond" event which may or may not happen.

(from my other brother)
Subject: RE: sympathy gift to Mac

Just a note on the fishing here in Texas. So far it looks like two ponds maybe three withing walking distance of Kevin and Nancy's house. These ponds have BIG fish in them. Last week the Third pond (may not be available to us) produced a 10 lb catfish and a 5 LB Large mouth bass.
The other two ponds have produced numerous 4+ lb Large Mouth bass and cropie of pan size.

(from my sister)
Subject: Re: sympathy gift to Mac
sounds like a fish story to me! :)

(from my other sister:)
Re: sympathy gift to Mac

That is great and thanks...I agree - Mac will like it better than flowers! I'll buy Sonic drinks for all!

(from my first sister)
Subject: Re: sympathy gift to Mac
sounds perfect - and fried pickles!!! :)

(I wrote to my family)
When I get back - MY TREAT - Sonic drinks, pickles, hamburgers, french fries... with all the money Boo is making for me renting my Juan Tomas house while I am gone!.... then dilly bars, root beer floats, and chocolate sundaes with nuts and top. No fish heads, no fish tails, no fish middles, no fried fish, no grilled fish, no fish in tomato sause, no fish with curry, no catfish, no pan fish, no river fish, no ocean fish, no little fish, no big fish, no dried fish!
(Maybe I should write a Dr. Suess book.)
Love and hugs, Colleen

(from my niece)
Subject: Re: sympathy gift to Mac

Yummy!!! I'm there!
Hang in there Col, sounds like it's a little ruff right now. Eric and I both think about you all the time! With lots and lots of love!


(from my sister)
Subject: Re: sympathy gift to Mac

would you like them in a boat? would you like them with a goat?
p.s. in Texas they have batter fried pickles at their Sonic's! We're gonna try then over Thanksgiving! Will let you know the verdict.

(Final word from me)
Thank you to my wonderful, crazy family. Your love sustains me!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fun Facts & Culture Quiz

Quiz – Indonesian Culture

This quiz is for the students at my partner school in the United States – the gifted 4th and 5th graders at San Antonito School, New Mexico. It reflects my own personal experience in my own little corner of Indonesia and does not reflect any official position of the people of the United States, the people of Indonesia or anyone else.
There may be more than one right answer. I have put the answers in after every 5 questions so you can just keep going and not have to scroll down.

1) How many people can ride a motorcycle in Indonesia?
A) 1
B) 2
C) 3
D) 4
E) 5

2) What is the speed limit?
A) You must obey the posted speed limit.
B) You must be slow and cautious.
C) There is no speed limit.

3) You may but a baby in the basket of a bicycle and drive it on a busy street
A) Never
B) Only if the baby will not fall out.
C) Any time you want

4) If you wake up and there is a 2 inch cockroach crawling on your chest you should
A) Scream
B) Think of the Indonesian word for help
C) Squish the cockroach
D) Gently put the cockroach outside

5) Muslims are required to pray how many times a day?
A) Three times a day
B) Five times a day
C) Once a day
D) Once a week
E) Whenever they want

1E I often see 5 people on a motorcycle: Father in front with a child on his lap, Mother in back with a child on her lap and a baby tied to her back with a sarong.
2C There is no speed limit that is posted on the roads.
3C I often see parents carrying children in baskets on their bicycles.
4C This is an ethical question. I can’t tell you what you should do; I can only tell you what I did. Two nights ago I woke up and felt something crawling on me. I swatted my chest really hard, then grabbed my nightgown and the bug in my fist and squeezed it as hard as I could. Then I walked over and dumped the dead 2 inch cockroach out the window and put on a different nightshirt and went back to sleep.
5B Muslims are required to pray 5 times a day. They can pray more if they want to.

6) Muslims pray
A) Quietly to themselves
B) Sitting in a quiet place
C) Loudly while they kneel at a mosque
D) In Arabic while they stand, sit, bow forward and put their heads on the ground

7) How many islands does Indonesia have?
A) 17
B) 170
C) 1700

8) Which one is NOT an island in Indonesia?
A) Java
B) Bali
C) Papua
D) Fuji
E) Kalimantan

9) Where are Komodo dragons found?
A) The island of Bali
B) The island of Java
C) The island of Komodo
D) A tiny island near Flores
E) The are mythical and do not exist

10) At what age do girl children wear a Muslim jilbab / headscarf?
A) 1 year old
B) 5 years old
C) 8 years old
D) 12 years old
E) Whenever they want

6D Muslims pray in Arabic while they stand, sit, bow forward and put their heads on the ground.
7C Indonesia has approximately 1700 islands.
8D Fuji is not an island in Indonesia, it is East of Australia. Java, Bali, Papua and Kalimantan are all islands in Indonesia.
9D Komodo dragons are found on a tiny island near the island of Flores, in Indonesia.
10 A,B,C,D and E I have seen small girls 1 year old with the jilbab and all other ages too. Some parents let their girls choose when they want to start, some tell them when to start.

11) How do most students get to High School?
A) Walk
B) Ride a bike
C) Ride a motorcycle
D) Take a car

12) What is the life expectancy in Indonesia? Hint, in America it is approx. 80 years old
A) 85 years
B) 75 years
C) 65 years

13) Ducks are
A) Free to walk wherever they want
B) Herded from place to place by a Shepard - Duck herder with a long stick.

14) Chickens are
A) Free to walk wherever they want
B) Kept in a cage

15) Rabbits are
A) Free to walk wherever they want
B) Kept in a cage

11C Most of the students at my High School ride a motorcycle to school.
12C People live for an average of 65 years in Indonesia. I am now 62. Teachers at my school are required to retire at age 60.
13B Ducks are herded from place to place by a Shepard - Duck herder with a long stick with plastic tied to the end of it. They can herd about 50 – 100 ducks at a time.
14A & B Most village chickens are free to walk around. Chickens produced at big chicken farms are stacked many layers high in little cages.
15B Most rabbits are kept in cages but this morning I saw 2 running free. I think they escaped.

16) How many times a day do people in Indonesia eat rice?
A) 1 time
B) 2 times
C) 3 times

17) On Sunday morning, most children
A) Go to church / mosque
B) Watch cartoons on TV
C) Go for a walk with their friends

18) French fries are usually eaten
A) Cold with catsup
B) Hot with catsup
C) Cold with no catsup
D) Hot with no catsup

19) In Indonesian, Guru means
A) A spiritual teacher
B) A teacher
C) A type of native food

20) If you rent a motorcycle you will be given
A) Instructions on how to drive it
B) A driver who will sit in front of you

16C Indonesians eat rice 3 times a day. If you eat a large meal without rice, it’s called a snack, not a meal.
17C On Sunday most children get up early, just as the sun is coming over the horizon and go for a walk. The most common day to go to the mosque is Friday when men and boys go for prayers at the middle of the day.
18A My ibu-mama makes me French fries often, because she knows I really like them. She always serves them to me cold with catsup.
19C In Indonesian guru means teacher. In India it means a spiritual leader.
20B We are not allowed to ride on motorcycles. They are the most common form of transportation. People rent them with the driver who takes them where they want to go, kind of like a taxi service.

21) It is okay to pick your nose in public
A) True
B) False

22) The most common greeting when someone sees you walk by is
A) Hello
B) Assulamu alaikum, the Arabic prayer
C) Where are you going?

23) The polite thing to do when you go into someone’s house is
A) Take food with you
B) Take off your shoes before you go in
C) It is not polite to go into someone’s house

24) At the start of each class the students
A) Stand and greet the teacher
B) Sit and wait for the teacher to begin the prayer in Arabic
C) Say “Hello, Oma.”

25) “Oma” means
A) Grandmother
B) Teacher
C) Then name Colleen roughly translated in Indonesian

21A It is okay to pick your nose in public. People do it all the time. Just like we would wipe the “sleep” out of our eyes, here, they wipe the goo out of their noses.
22C For me the most common thing people ask me is, “Where are you going?” My most common answer is, “Walking.” Which indicates that I am walking for exercise without any particular destination.
23B The polite thing to do when you go into someone’s house is to take off your shoes before you go in. It is polite to eat and drink their food. People sometimes invite you in but don’t really expect that you will come in but they are honored when you do.
24B At the start of each class the students sit and wait for the teacher to begin the prayer in Arabic.
25A Oma means Grandmother.

26) The prayer times for Muslims are
A) 6am, 12 noon, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm
B) 12 noon, 3pm, 5:30pm, 8pm and 4am
C) Approximately11:37am, 3:03pm, 5:37pm, 7:13pm and 3:53am

27) The royal colors of East Java are
A) Purple and gold
B) Green and silver
C) Brown and yellow

28) Most mosques are
A) Green
B) Red
C) Blue
D) Made of natural stone

29) The Indonesian flag is
A) Red and white
B) Red, white and blue
C) There is no national flag

30) Most children sleep in bed with their parents
A) Till they are 3 month old
B) Till they are 1 year old
C) Till they are 5 years old
D) Till they are 10 years old
E) They don’t sleep in bed with their parents.

26C The prayer times change by a minute every few days. They are calculated based on the time of sunset and when the first thread of light is seen in the dark morning sky. The calendar for my school lists the most common 7 prayer times, although only 5 are required. I don't know why the first prayer is listed as the one at 11:37am.
27C The royal colors of East Java are brown and yellow.
28A Most mosques are green.
29A The Indonesian flag is red for bravery and white for virtue.
30D Most children sleep in bed with their parents till they are 10 years old. At least that’s what my language and culture teacher told us was common.

31) Most families have how many children?
A) 1
B) 2
C) 3
D) 5 or more

32) The proper way to greet your teacher is
A) Politely say, “Hello, teacher.”
B) Take her hand and press it to your forehead if you both are female or both male
C) Bow and put your hands together with fingers pointed upward
D) Students do not generally greet their teachers.

33) For PE / Gym class most girls wear
A) Pants, long sleeve shirt and jilbab / headscarf
B) The regular school uniform – long skirt, long sleeve shirt and jilbab / headscarf
C) Shorts, short sleeve shirt and no head covering
D) Shorts, short sleeve shirt and jilbab / head covering

34) If you are sick with something like a cold some one will usually
A) Take a coin and rub in on your back so that it makes long red stripes
B) Do a special dance to make you feel better
C) Sing a special song designed to heal you

35) Children drink out of baby bottles till
A) They are about 1 years old
B) They are about 5 years old
C) They do not drink out of baby bottles, their mother’s nurse them

31 B Most families have 2 children. There is a national campaign – Two is Enough – to limit family size because the island of Java is the most densely populated on the planet.
32B &C The proper way to greet your teacher is to take her hand and press it to your forehead if you both boys or both girls or bow and put your hands together with fingers pointed upward if you are of different sexes. Boys shouldn’t touch girls and vice versa.
33A For PE / Gym class at my school most girls wear pants, long sleeve shirt and jilbab / headscarf.
34A If you are sick with something like a cold some one will usually take a coin and rub in on your back so that it makes long red stripes. At least that’s what they do in my family.
35B Mothers generally nurse their babies for 1 or 2 years, but all during that time they are given bottles and they continue to drink out of a bottle until they are about 5 years old. At least that’s what I’ve seen. My 1st Ibu-mama had a new grandbaby and she would let the baby nurse on her, even though there was no milk, kind of like a pacifier.

36) If you go into a restaurant and see toilet paper it will usually be
A) On the table
B) In the bathroom

37) A favorite activity that high school students engage in is
A) Playing with a Rubik’s cube – called a revenge cube in Indonesia
B) Standing together with girls holding each others hands
C) Marbles
D) Jump rope

38) Which are the animals that a Muslim may NOT eat
A) Bats
B) Pigs
C) Dogs
D) Cows

39) When one of my students sees a dog it
A) Determines if the dog is friendly and pats it
B) Immediately goes away from the dog and watches to see if the dog will bite
C) Tells an adult who calls the dog catcher

40) Java, the island I live on, is about the size of
A) England
B) The United States
C) A large city in America

36A If you go to a restaurant and see toilet paper, it will usually be on the table. People tear off pieces and use them like napkins. The plumbing system in Indonesia is not designed for using toilet paper. People wash off with water.
37A&B A favorite activity that high school students engage in is playing with a Rubik’s cube – called a revenge cube in Indonesia and standing together with girls holding each others hands.
38A, B &C Muslims may not eat pigs, bacon or any pork products. They also are forbidden to have dogs, for food or pets, unless they have an excellent reason, like they need a dog to protect their farm. Also, they are not allowed to eat anything that has fangs: bats, snakes, etc. They can eat cows and beef. Hindus on the island of Bali do not eat cows, because they are considered to be sacred animals.
39B When one of my students sees a dog it immediately goes away from the dog and watches to see if the dog will bite. When I asked them to write stories about an important event in their lives, many of them wrote about being chased or bitten by a vicious dog. Generally, only Christians have dogs. I don’t know if there are dog catchers on Java.
40A Java, the island I live on, is about the size of England.

41) How many languages are spoken in Indonesia?
A) One – Indonesian
B) Five main languages
C) 731 languages

42) How many languages do the 10th graders at my High School study each week?
A) 1 - Indonesian
B) 2 - Indonesian and English
C) 3 - Indonesian, English, and Arabic
D) 4 - Indonesian, English, Arabic and French.
E) 5 – They have a choice and can pick Indonesian plus 1 or 2 other languages.

43) About 10% of all plant species in the world are found in Indonesia.
A) True
B) False

44) Indonesia is the world’s largest plywood exporter
A) True
B) False

45) The cost of a 4 hour train ride from my city to Surabaya is
A) 60 cents
B) $6.00
C) $60.00
D) $600.00

41C 731 different languages are spoken in Indonesia. Most of my students speak high, low and medium Javanese at home and with friends. High is the most respectful. There is a super high level which is used for ceremonies and most people can’t speak it but recognize when it is being spoken. Because there were so many different languages, when the country was unified, they developed one national language, Indonesian, and that is the language that is taught when children start school.
42D The 10 the graders at my school must learn Indonesian, English, Arabic and French. Students are not given choices about what subjects they study. Every 10th grader takes the same subjects. Every 11th and 12th grader takes the required subjects. There are no options. Once a week, 10th and 11th grades are free to go to the “club” that they signed up for at the beginning of the year: English club or Journalism club, etc.
43A True. About 10% of all plant species are found in Indonesia. It has a very high bio diversity.
44A True. Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of plywood.
45A The cost of a 4 hour train ride is 60 cents. Train rides are the cheapest way to get around Indonesia. The cheap trains are not air conditioned and there are no assigned seats. Sometimes you need to stand. People bring lots of luggage, shopping and animals with them on the trains. It’s a fun, crowded, sweaty experience

46) Fried chicken is usually eaten at
A) Breakfast
B) Lunch
C) Dinner

47) Eggs are usually eaten at
A) Breakfast
B) Lunch
C) Dinner

48) Fried tofu is usually eaten at
A) Breakfast
B) Lunch
C) Dinner
D) As a snack

49) How many kinds of bananas are in Indonesia
A) 3
B) 5
C) 10
D) More than 20

50) Tropical forests cover what percentage of Indonesia?
A) 75%
B) 50%
C) 25%
D) 5% - Indonesia is so densely populated that the area is used for growing rice.

46A B & C Fried chicken is eaten all meals
47A B & C Eggs are eaten at all meals
48 A B C &D Fried tofu is eaten at all meals and snacks too.
49 – I don’t know the answer. My guess is D – I’ve seen so many different kinds of bananas, maybe someone can look it up and tell me how many kinds of bananas are in Indonesia.
50A Tropical forests cover 75% percentage of Indonesia. At least that’s what it says on the fact sheet that the Indonesian Consulate gave us.

Remember all these answers are NOT official, they are just things that I've observed and found interesting.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Teachers Field Trip & First School Day

All 52 teachers and their families met at the school at 7pm.on the Saturday before school started. At 8pm we were on the 3 buses, sitting in our assigned seats. Each teacher brought his or her spouse and children. Single teachers brought a parent. Around midnight, we stopped at a mosque to pray. The teachers explained to me that the 3rd (or possibly 4th,) president of Indonesia (they weren’t sure) was buried in one of the graves near the mosque. He had helped to spread Islam in the country.

At 3 am we stopped at another mosque and this time the teachers brought their backpacks and carry ons into the mosque. They asked me if I wanted to take a bath. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes. All of them had. They went into the bathing / cleansing / purification area of the mosque and every one, even the children emerged with clean clothes on. Then there were official prayers, not just the random say prayers on your own, like they did as a group at the first mosque. A man came into the women’s section and I’m not sure what he said but after he left about 2/3 of the women, who didn’t have on the long white prayer robes, went through the gate and stood on the other side. At my own mosque, it’s okay for women who are not praying to sit on the edge of the stairs, but I guess it’s not okay at this mosque. I excused myself and stood about 10 feet away from my friends.

Then we all got back on the buses and drove to the new bridge that goes from Java to Madura. I think its a few years old now. Each bus paid the toll, drove across the bridge, circled around to the return lane and started back across the bridge. Next to the roadway were souvenir stands and we stopped and spent about 20 – 30 minutes buying souvenirs to document that we had been on the island of Madura.

At noon we arrived at a really neat Safari Park. The kids on the bus were excited and adults and children cheered as we drove under the banner proclaiming the entrance to the park. All the little kids were invited to stand at the front of the bus leaning on the front window, looking out. Some of the teachers started making jokes – oh, look, there’s an ant! But eventually the buses drove past elephants, hippos, lions, giraffes, lots of different deer, buffalos, bears and other wildlife in their natural habitats. There was no fence between the tigers and the cars and buses. But there were guards standing around with guns. In between the different wildlife sections there were electric fences and cattle guards and automatic gates. I think they were automatic gates – they were open every time I saw them.

When we finished with the drive through tour, we all got off the buses and were given boxes of rice and cooked veggies and some meat and a little plastic cup of water. The park had an amusement area, playground, and baby zoo and water park. It also had a mini-mosque so the teachers could get in another set (or two) of prayers. The prayers involve washing with water, standing and reciting Arabic, bowing, kneeling, touching your head to the floor, reciting more Arabic prayers, and sitting leaning on your left hip, glancing to the right and left and reciting more prayers in Arabic. And then the sequence gets repeated. It’s mandatory that Muslims pray 5 times a day.

I walked around with some of the teachers and we watched their kids go on the amusement rides. Then I went back to the bus and hung out with some of the other teachers. At 3:00 almost all the teachers and their families were back, but a few were missing. My vice principal talked about the concept of “rubber time” in Indonesia and we waited till around 4:00, then some of the male teachers went out looking for the rest of the people in our group. They came back with a few. Around 6:00 the last teacher and his family showed up and we all got back on the buses and headed back to school.

We stopped at one more mosque for prayers. At 11:00pm we were back at school and I walked the 15 minutes back to my house.

The next day school started at 7am. All the students and teachers were lined up in rows on our soccer field, assembly ground. The kids assembled, reported to the leader, saluted the leader, saluted the head teacher and one teacher gave a half hour speech. Then one by one, every single one of the 900 students in my school, went down the list of teachers and apologized individually to every teacher for the wrongs they had committed. The boys held hand together and bowed to the female teachers. The girls took my hand and pressed it to their cheeks or foreheads. When they were finished with the teachers, they continued the line so that every student greeted and apologized to every other student. Each teacher also greeted and apologized to every student and every other teacher.

Then the teacher in charge made an announcement and all the students cheered. All the teaches went back to the teacher room and I asked my co-teacher what we would teach today. She said, maybe we wouldn’t teach till tomorrow. Today the students will clean the classroom. After an hour of hanging out in the teacher room, giving away the gifts I had bought in Bali, (I had saved a few special ones for specific teachers but the rest I just let the ones who descended on my desk pick through and take what they wanted.) Then I walked around campus and came back to discover there was a meeting with the principal going on. Oops. I looked on the announcement board. No announcement. I guess everyone just knew that if classes are cancelled we have a teacher meeting. It’s good I was sitting down in time to sign my name to the official roster of who was present for the meeting.

At first they were talking about jilbab / headscarf colors. Then the teacher, who was the last one to come to the bus the day before and held people up for 2 hours, asked for forgiveness and apologized for being “alone.” And not with the other teachers, just with his family. Several other people apologized for things and asked for forgiveness. I didn’t understand most of what was happening.

It seems pretty good. The first day back at school after a long vacation, nobody wants to do any work anyway. Everyone just wants to hang with friends and find out what they did on vacation. This day seemed to accomplish that. It felt good to start the season off with asking for forgiveness for all the wrongs we have committed.