It's official. March 15th I'll head off to East Java, Indonesia. My assignment is to teach English to High School students and teachers. There will be 25 of us and we are the first Peace Corps group in Indonesia in 45 years. There was a group of PE teachers who were there from 1963-1965, but then the country experienced civil unrest and the Peace Corps program was abandoned.
So I'm spending my time learning Bahasa Indonesia, the national language and reading everything I can get my hands on. Here's what I know so far: Indonesia is on the equator, 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. It consists of some 17,508 islands. Our group will be stationed on Java. We will be at the east end of the island, including the island of Madura. Java is about the size of California and has 4 times as many people. It's the most populated island in the world. 90% of the people are Muslim. Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country. There are many active volcanoes on Java, and a spine of mountains with elevations between 10,000 and 12,000 feet. Most of the schools where we will be serving are run by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The Peace Corps mission is to provide trained personnel in the areas that the host country requests and to promote a better understanding of Americans and a better understanding of the host country by cross-cultural exchange. That means that our first few months on the island will be spent learning how to speak and how to fit in as well as learning how teaching is accomplished in Indonesia.
I checked out every book on Indonesia that was available from the Salt Lake City library. These are the things I've learned so far:
"The Javanese do not like anything to disturb their single, seamless vision of the world. They hate confrontation, preferring to hide negative feelings such as jealousy or anger. They do not complain or shout, but cope with stress by smiling and quietly withdrawing. Even in conversation, a Javanese always strives to maintain the peace. This often means speaking in a roundabout, indirect manner - to ask for a glass of water, a person might clear his throat and comment on how dry and dusty the day is. People talk in low, calm tones with no dramatic arm gestures, even in times of great excitement. To Javanese, extreme emotions like uncontrollable laughter or wails of sorrow indicate a lack of self control and refinement."
Rubber Time - "The day begins at sunset, so "last night" is considered earlier the same day. A person can be an hour to 3 hours late and still be considered punctual for some events. When you ask someone for the time, it is rounded off to the nearest quarter or even half hour, there is no need to be exact."
Toilets - "Most rural homes do not have toilets and one simply uses a nearby stream. There is no toilet paper, as water is preferred for reasons of hygiene."
Giving - All items are passed with the right hand. The left hand is the unclean one that you use when you are in the stream or at a squat toilet, which is usually a hole in the ground with footrests on either side.
Walking - "When in a restricted space, one should ask permission before walking in front of someone. This is done by bending low, extending the right arm forward, mumbling "permisi" meaning please give me permission, or excuse me, then quickly walking across."
Pointing - "Indonesians only point with their thumb. Using any other finger is considered rude. The gesture is like a gentler version of that used in America for hitching a ride, but with a more open palm. This gesture is also used like a "go ahead" signal when asking someone to proceed. For instance, it is used to invite someone to begin eating by pointing at the food."
Praying - The first of five calls to prayer is at 4:30 in the morning and usually is amplified beyond what Americans consider ear splitting. This is good because school starts at 6:30am. Most schools are 10 hours a day Monday - Saturday.
The Life Force - Many things in nature are believed to contain a vital energy or life force called "semangat." In a person, semangat is contained in the head, blood, heart, hair and nails. Children are not patted on the head, which is considered sacred, and clippings of hair and nails are carefully disposed of, as these can be used for sorcery. Clothes, sacred heirlooms, and jewelry are believed to contain the soul of the previous owner. The semangat of mountains, lakes and old trees must also be handled with respect.
Peace Corps sent a non-country specific 50 page booklet titled "A Few Minor Adjustments" which begins: The subject of this book - cultural adjustment - is a daily necessity and, arguably, the central reality of the Peace Corps experience." I think I'm in for a awesome adventure!