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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The day I ironed the dictionary

This is a picture of the day I hiked up Panderman mountain.
But this is a story of a different day, the day I ironed the dictionary.

I got up at 4:00. That’s when I usually get up. I studied Bahasa Indonesia, then took a mandi bath, ate breakfast: white rice, a fried egg, fried tofu, green beans and onions and hot tea, dressed in my long black skirt and white blouse and black closed toe shoes for teaching at school. (No sandals, clothes need to be very conservative when you are teaching.) Then I said goodbye to my Ibu and Bapak, asking for permission to go to school, walked 10 minutes down the hill, then turned left, 5 minutes towards Scott’s house, met him walking toward the village, and turned around to join him as we back toward the village. (Usually I just turn right at the bottom of my hill and go to the center of the village. It takes about 15-25 minutes to walk to the place where we hold classes, which is a minute away from Maggie’s house. The time varies based on how many people I stop and chat with along the way.)

By 7:00 we got to Maggie’s house, but instead I went across the street to a house with a sign that said “Sewing Classes.” I had learned the word “to sew’ the day before and I asked the Ibu there if she had any black fabric and could she please sew the strap on my backpack. She said yes, but when I asked her how much, she said no charge because it was so little. A strip about an inch wide and 5 inches long needed to be added and sewn on all sides with hand stitches, but I didn’t have any fabric and was willing to pay to get it done, because I use the backpack every day and it needs to last for another 2 years. Then we got a ride with Pak Habib, from the University, to our school in Malang where we student teach. On the way he told us lots of stories about Madura, which is a large island off the coast of East Java. Our host families here are concerned because the people there are not as “refined” as most people on East Java. They tend to be loud and coarse (More like Americans.) and several of us will possibly go there for our permanent assignments.

At the High School Andy and I were assigned to the tourism English teacher and attended 3 of her classes. This was ‘grand finale” day for her classes. They had been preparing TV scripts that they had written and they performed them for us. It was amazing. I had to concentrate a lot because it was hard to understand their English, but the skits were great! TV commercials about perfume that seduces whatever girl you want, bug spray that mothers put on their daughters while they are eating bread, game shows where the girls pick the bachelor of their choice, news programs about super heroes, kids with guitars singing English songs! What a treat. Each student wore their number – there are 40 per class at this elite “international standards” school and we graded each student on their performance and English speaking. At the end of each class we discussed what we loved about the shows. The kids all stood together with us in the middle and took pictures. The last class was the most fun, all of us were on our feet dancing to the music and laughing at the Academy Awards for most handsome student and most quiet, etc. The kids gave Andy and me an award too.

After student teaching, we were driven back to our village and the sewing lady had left my backpack at Maggie’s house. I asked what would be appropriate to give her and Maggie suggested a pair of earrings that I had made in the States. I have several necklaces and earrings with me. She did a great job and I really don’t want to take advantage of my privileged “white person” status.

We went to our village office where language class is held and ate our lunch boxes (literal translation: rice boxes) that our mothers had fixed. Mine was the same as breakfast. Usually my mother fixes food in the morning and we eat that for that day. Sometimes there is extra food at night, but she gets all the tofu and vegetables fresh while it is still dark each morning. I sometimes go with her and watch her pick out the produce and shrimp and fish. I haven’t seen her buy chicken. We do have chickens in our yard and a rooster who is kept under a bamboo bird cage, but I’m gone in the middle of each day and I have no idea who kills the chickens.

We spent the afternoon with Teguh, our language instructor, studying verbs and how they get changed to make them more formal. It was a great review. I really like it when we go slow and just learn one new word at a time. I try to pick out a few that I really want to learn and just let the rest swim in a dark cave in the back of my brain in hopes that someday they will reach the light at the surface. My head was exhausted by 4:30 when we quit.

It had begun pouring rain and several times the lights went out in the little office where our classes are held. When we were ready to head home, Scott took off his shoes and walked barefoot. It didn’t look that deep and I started off with shoes on. At the main road the water was 4 to 6 inches deep. I took the shoes and socks off and began the 15 minute walk back to my house. It was raining so hard that I was getting in under the umbrella. I stopped and nodded and laughed and wished people who were on their porches “Good evening.” as I slowly walked up the hill.

When I got home my Bapak and Ibu were laughing. We had a discussion about how usually only children take off their shoes to walk in the rain. I explained that I looked for the mini buses that run up my road, but there were none and the water was way too deep to keep my good shoes on. Ibu gave me a cup of hot tea.

Then I took every thing off, took another mandi bath (You are expected to bathe twice a day here.) and went back to my room to study some more. I opened the backpack to discover that water had somehow gotten inside my backpack and all the pages of my dictionary were wet. I use this dictionary maybe 50 times a day. It’s more important than the shoes, the backpack and all my clothes combined. Many of the dictionaries you can get here are just not accurate.

I asked my Ibu for the iron and for the next 45 minutes, ironed every one of the 625 pages in my Indonesian/English dictionary.

Ibu made me quit part way through to eat dinner: white rice, fried chicken, noodles with vegetables, fried tofu and more tea.

I did my homework, writing a story about what happened last weekend, let my Ibu suggest changes, then read it to my extended family, who laughed and suggested a few more changes. (I was trying to describe the mud on my pants and I think I used the word chocolate which can mean brown and also candy, the wrong way.)

At 9:00 I asked for permission to go to sleep, turned off the light and listened to a mosquito. There are stripped ones and ones that bite you with their butt up. Some bite in the evening, some in the morning. Some carry Dengue fever and some carry Malaria. I can’t remember which is which. We’ll have a test on it in another few weeks. Oh well, maybe by then I’ll remember.

That’s the story of the day I ironed the dictionary.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hike up Panderman Mountain.

Today Andy and I had an adventure together. We took a microlet (minivan-bus) to the Batu bus terminal and then another microlet to the base of Panderman Mountain. Then we started walking. It took almost an hour to walk up the steep road past the village at the bottom to the village at the top of the road. Then we found the trailhead. There was a cute little shed that said “Base Camp” and a trail paved with bricks for the first 10 minutes or so, then it turned into a dirt and mud trail. The hillside was terraced and each little plot of land had something growing on it: rice, corn, grapes, banana trees, papaya trees, cabbages and lots of other stuff that we didn’t recognize. Java is the most populated island in the world and it’s important to use the land for the most benefit. We asked some farmers who were wheeling down their carts filled with greens and vegetables which way to the top and they told us which path to take.

The path was made for farmers who would climb up to their plots. It soon became very steep. Andy and I got walking sticks to help us up the places where we had to wedge the sticks in and pull ourselves up. Many places we were holding on to trees or clumps of grass to keep pulling ourselves up. Andy went first and if there was a really slippery steep place he would hold his stick down for me to grab onto and then he would help pull me up. Several times he was holding my full weight and tugging to help me get up.

It took us several more hours to get to the spot where people camp at night. We stopped and ate our packed lunches: white rice, fried shrimp and chicken and tempe, bananas, guava and filtered water. That’s where we found that we hadn’t been on the main trail. What a relief to be on a trail where we could walk and not climb. That didn’t last long. Soon we were back to climbing up the slippery slope figuring out where each foot and hand should go.

It was a foggy day and we really couldn’t see the valley below. Thank goodness! I was a little freaked out at how steep it all was and it was reassuring that we could only see 10 feet or so in front of us. As we got close to the top it started to rain. I sat down on a root and told Andy to go ahead. There’s no need for me to prove anything to the world. He summated the last 5 minutes on his own and came back to my spot. I felt satisfied and it was beginning to rain a little harder and we figured we better get going. We needed to be back at the spot where we catch the mini buses by 4pm when they stop running. Andy led the way and I left a little space between us so the rocks and dirt and mud I was kicking down wouldn’t injure him.

Each step was tricky because it was totally slick and muddy. I laughed and said, “I might just land on my butt.” And whoosh, I was on my butt sliding several feet down the mountain. It was so much fun. I laughed like crazy. I wound up falling down 10 or 15 times as we descended. Andy managed to stay upright the entire time, although he did have several close calls. I only landed on my face once, so I think I did fine. A couple of times, it was so gooey, I just slid crouched down using my tevas as skis and didn’t even try to stay upright. It was really raining hard. Every time I fell I would laugh and tell Andy what a great adventure this was. My pants were totally covered in mud, my shirt was soaking wet, but I had my poncho covering my pack.

We found the better way down and made it back to the bottom village. Close to the bottom I tried to drag my butt on some grass to get some of the mud off but I don’t think it helped much. Total hiking time: 6 hours. At a little store at the intersection with the main road, we treated ourselves to ice cream and then caught the transport home. Andy told me that if he had been by himself he never would have gone up there and I totally agreed. He started to get in the wrong bus and I stopped him, so I figure he helped me a lot but I helped him too.

When I arrived home, my Ibu was horrified. There was a torrential downpour just as I walked in and I was covered in mud. She said I should take a mandi bath and I agreed. I stripped all the muddy stuff off and put soap in a bucket and washed the clothes at the same time that I was pouring cold water over myself, walking on the clothes on the tile floor to try to get some of the mud out and then scrubbing them with a scrub brush till the water wasn’t brown.

I’m pooped. I think I’ll sleep really well tonight.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Difficult Day

My group of Peace Corps trainees: Maggie, Scott, Andy and Lukasz met with the next village group: Sami, Erica, Diane, Noel and Bart for our now twice a week teacher training sessions. Rebecca, our TEFL teacher was having us teach each other a grammar lesson on the past, present and future, simple, perfect and progressive verbs. I left that session wanting to say bad words and eat candy and go shopping all at the same time. I think it was the frustration of thinking that somehow I need to learn the English language as well as Indonesian to be able to be a teacher and survive here.

Earlier that day I had a series of conversations with a woman at a bank who kept calling me on my cell phone. She wanted to know my husband’s name. I told her the connection was bad, then I told her I was in class and would call her back, then I stopped answering the phone. I didn’t know what to tell her.

On the first day in Jakarta when I asked the language teacher about being divorced she had very specifically written out in Indonesian: “Are you married? Response: Yes, I am already married.” This was what she wanted me to say. So I have been very carefully not telling people that I am divorced. When they see the pictures of my children and grandchildren and ask about my husband, I tell them that he is crazy and that he doesn’t want to live with me. What does the word or concept "divorced" mean in this Muslim country? Does it mean I am so bad you should cut off my arm? Does it mean that my presence will somehow pollute your air space? Does it mean I am a prostitute? I don’t know.

Now some woman at a National Bank is insisting that I tell her the one thing that I have avoided discussing here in Indonesia. Peace Corps had us sign an 8 page application for a bank account so that once we are sworn in, they can deposit our monthly walk-around money ($1.75 per day) into a bank account where we can draw it out as needed. Then she texts me: “What is the name of your husband?” I text her back: “I am not married.” She is so sorry and explains that somehow on the 8 page form someone (maybe the Indonesian helpers at the PC office) had put an X in the married column.

I am worried about what all this means. I have just “outed” myself. What are the ramifications? I’m on a slippery slope that someone I trusted told me “Don’t go there.” and now I have begun sliding down and I can’t see the bottom.

And I got a beautiful message from home that something special will probably happen and I won’t be there for it. I’m keeping that a secret from you right now because the information really isn’t mine to share.

Add on top of all those emotions – the next day we are going to have our mid term language assessment test. Our teacher, Guru Teguh has explained that the test will just be an oral quiz, where each of us will be alone in the room with him and he will ask us questions that we should already know. All the language teachers have given us a sheet of questions so that we can prepare. They are easy questions but I am used to answering with the formal “I ” and all the questions are using the informal personal nouns, which I avoid using because it’s harder. And it takes me forever to talk about money and lots of the questions are about how much did I pay for this or that. First of all, I don’t remember what I paid, then I have to think about it in English, where I store the information in dollars, then I translate that to rupiah, at a rate of 1000 to 1 and have to remember the Indonesian names for the numbers and hundreds and thousands. For example my cell phone cost $24. Rp. 240.000,00 Dua (2) ratus (hundred) 4 empat (times 10) puluh . (dot) ribu (thousand) rupiah.

So I am mega stressed. I hate it when I feel like a failure but I have to admit it. I feel like a failure. I haven’t managed my life very well. I’m a divorced woman. I’ve failed at marriage. I can’t remember from one week to the next what the perfect tense is. And I don’t even care what the perfect tense is. And I know I am being less than a perfect PC Trainee by not caring. And I’m a failure as a mom. I’m half way around the world when my children are going through important things in life. And I’ve failed at learning the Indonesian language and tomorrow even my teacher, who likes me a lot, will find out how little I know. It all seems like too much. Sitting in the back of the classroom I get tears in my eyes. I want so badly to be the person I was back in the States: confident, competent, someone whose life experiences can contribute something to the people around her and here I am: slowing my friends down because I can’t understand most of the words in the sentences, writing down 10 words each day to remember and waking up and trying my hardest and absolutely not being able to remember them. And on top of all of it, I really am feeling sorry for myself and I hate it when I feel selfish like this. And I don’t have a tissue, probably will spend the next 2 years without a tissue and there’s nowhere to wipe my gooey nose. Maggie and Scott put their arms around me and tell me its okay. Maggie gives me a homework assignment: I need to write down 15 things about me that I like about me, things that make me unique. Andy and Lukasz keep Teguh busy but I can tell that they are worried too. Scott walks me all the way home which is out of his way and gives me a hug on the street, which men are not supposed to do to women in Indonesia, but he knows this is a hard day for me.

I walk into my house and the all Indonesian language conversation that we have every night as my Ibu watches me eat dinner is too much. The tears come again. She keeps telling me the words: “I am happy.” And I reassure her, “Yes, I am happy.”

Then I do the homework assignment Maggie gave me. Here’s the list:
Colleen’s good qualities:
1.I am willing to fail and keep going.
2.I have courage.
3.I am strong enough to show my weaknesses.
4.I trust that absolutely everything in my life is exactly the way it should be for me to grow into who I am becoming.
5.I can laugh at myself.
6.I’m not afraid to be foolish.
7.When I think I’ve figured out a strategy to handle how the people of Indonesia see me as a divorced person, I can go with the flow and change the strategy.
8.No matter how I present myself, or how other people see me, I know who I am inside.
9.My core being is linked to more than just this body or this personality.
10. I can find the core of who I am very clearly when I am struggling.
11. I know how to release intense emotional and physical pain – I have experienced it.
12. I am willing to go deep into the agony of being incompetent to find that place where it dissolves.
13. I can figure out a way to be present for important family events even if it seems impossible- maybe in person, maybe skype, or maybe something will happen that I don’t even know about yet.
14. I am good at loving people and allowing them to love me.
15. I communicate with people with much more than the words that come out of my mouth.

It works. I do feel better. I ask for permission to go to sleep. (And for permission to go to the bathroom and for permission to go to school… that’s all a part of the culture here.) I go to sleep and the next morning I get up early, ask for permission to go walking and go for a walk up a street I’ve never been on. There is a little village. At the highest place where the wide stream comes from the rice fields there is a chest high concrete enclosure with 2 separate areas and I guess that this is where the people bathe and use the bathroom. I can picture myself living in a little village like this. It would be fun. I keep walking father and farther up the mountain, on a little path that’s wide enough for a vehicle to use. I meet people and talk to them about where I am from and where I am going and ask them if this road will take me to the main road and they say yes, that my village is “dekat” (close) and keep pointing up the mountain. I have been gone a long time and I’m afraid that my Ibu might be worried, so I decide to take a short cut on a path through the fields. I go up and down muddy embankments and meet a man who tells me that yes; this path will take me to my village. (Does everyone tell you that because they don’t want you to be discouraged? That’s what the culture was like in Africa, when I went to visit my daughter, but I really have no idea if that’s true for Indonesia.) He walks with me under the trees and through the fields until we come to another little village and points in the direction of the “great” road. I keep going and Yes! I am back on my main road. My Ibu is waiting on the street for me. I am covered in mud from the grass and my flip flops have flung up little chunks of mud on the back of my pants and my shirt but I am happy.

I really am happy.

At school, Scott gives me 3 pieces of American chocolate with cranberries and almonds. When I break one in half, he insists that they are all for me and gives me the baggie and tells me to save the others for when I really need them. Andy arrives next and shares his cookies and candy too. Maggie reads my homework and tells me that she loves #4 and #9 and she’s not good at loving and being loved, (which isn’t true at all.) And she tells me that she’s proud of me. I take the test and it’s not too bad. After school, Lukasz walks with me to the internet place and offers to help get me set up on facebook, but all the stalls are full. He walks home and I head up the hill to my house. There is another internet place close to me and I go in there and I get myself on facebook. ALL BY MYSELF! Okay, the connection was really slow and it took forever, so I didn’t transfer pictures, but I did it! I am happy.

I really am happy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Aerobics & Bull Festival

Yesterday we went to an event sponsored by the University Of Muhmmadiyah English Department. I’m guessing there were 400 college students and maybe 30 or so college teachers who came at 6:00am to campus and gathered in front of the main auditorium. It was a party for students to see teachers out of their normal role. There was loudspeaker music and an aerobics instructor was leading the group when the 19 Americans showed up. We joined in. What fun! We had already met some of the teaching staff and students before. The head of the department is a delightful woman who loves to have “native English speakers” interact with her group. All the women wore full jilbab head scarves and coverings from wrists to neck to ankles. That’s a requirement for teaching at this Muslim university.

I hope to master the technology of getting the pictures off face book and adding them to this blog, so you can get to know some of these crazy Americans who have become my best friends. But to be perfectly honest, I figure I have enough to do, just learning a new language and learning how to text and learning how to type at home, then put the information into the thumb drive, then find an open internet place, turn on the computer, get my info out of the thumb drive, find the right spot on the blog to put it in, then figuring out how much to pay the internet person and learning how to teach English to High School students and learning what to do when the students have no idea what I am talking about and learning how to take public transportation and learning how to bargain for a pair of socks and learning how to act appropriately – I still sometimes forget and hand money or papers or food with my left hand. Yesterday my host mother asked me what we ate for lunch the day before and the word that came out of my memory bank was not potato, but cat. (Both start with a k and end with ng, the middle part is completely different, but I was tired and the brain cells weren’t working very fast.) She looked at me very surprised. I thought, what’s so unusual about potatoes for lunch. Then she repeated the cat word with a meowing sound and I realized what I had said. One of our host families is not Muslim so they are allowed to have dogs and they had caught some bats and were skinning them, but bats are forbidden food for Muslims, but I could see my host mother was trying to figure out if they really do eat cats at that house. So, please forgive me, (That’s a very Indonesian expression.) I am not yet able (also a phrase I use a lot) able to get other peoples pictures onto this blog. And I’m lousy at taking pictures myself.

Afterwards the aerobics, students brought around water and little candies and little plastic bags of what looked like potato chips but were really slightly sweet and salty cassava chips. They also passed out a cold drink with chunks of fruit and little round balls that looked identical to little fish eggs and custard in the bottom and a banana wrapped in a green tortilla like substance floating in the cold soup. It was absolutely delicious. I now know the words for fish eggs and I asked a student if that was what the little round things were and she said that it wasn’t. I asked if it was fruit and I think she said it was made from rice, but I don’t know if we were both talking about the same things in the plastic cup.

Then the head of the foreign students program took us out for pizza and ice cream. You who know me from Salt Lake City may remember that I have been going to Weight Watchers for the past 7 months. From the time I took my Peace Corps physical till I left for Indonesia I had lost 30 pounds. So that slice of pizza and chocolate ice cream with real M & M’s was like a drink of water for a person who has been walking for months lost in a desert. I could feel the slightly tingly sugar feeling as it melted on my tongue. It was euphoria. I was instantly linked with every childhood memory of 31 flavors and birthday parties and … Okay, I’ll stop.

There are so many wonderful and strange things here.

Today I woke up at 4:00 listening to the prayers on the loudspeaker, went to the bathroom, pausing to say the Muslim prayer/greeting to my host mother who was already preparing breakfast. I folded my blanket, which I really do use. (I hope, I hope that I will quickly adjust to the heat here. Everyday people say it is cool and have their jackets and sweaters on as I am feeling the sweat drip off of me. At night when I feel the slightest cooling as the sweat stops I use the blanket to absorb the sweat and as my body cools down the blanket really does keep we warm.)

I sweep out my room and the living room and the front porch. Every room is tiled and people take off their shoes and leave them beside the porch when they come in. A layer of dust or splattered mud accumulates each night on the front porch and I love to sit there in the morning in my bare feet and smile and nod at the people who walk by. I take my stack of Indonesian words that I am trying to learn outside and look them over as the sky becomes light. My host mother brings out a glass with a handle of hot sugar tea for me to drink. I swallow the calcium pills I brought with me. The PC medical officer has explained that they will give us vitamins once we are sworn in; but that we have enough nutrition in our bodies to last the first 3 months and that the diet in Indonesia is far superior to what most PC Volunteers get. At some locations the diet is fish 3 times a day.

My family: ibu and bapak were gone by 5:30am dressed in their identical long sleeve shirts with the logo on the pocket and long running pants, with 2 women friends to Batu, a 20 minute drive from here to go to a monthly calisthenics class where they represent our village. (I think – remember all our conversations are in the Indonesian national language. My family speaks the Java language with each other, but switch to the national language when they are trying to communicate with me.) My ibu tells me not to lock the door when I leave and I hear the word, “child” so I show her how I will lock the front the door but leave the back door unlocked.

I wash my clothes by hand, sometimes squatting in the bathroom, sometimes using the 4 inch tall little stool to sit on, ladling water from the mandi water tub like container and using my knuckles to scrub the clothes. I walk on them on the tiled floor and rinse them and wring them out as best I can so they will hopefully dry before the rain starts this afternoon. It rains almost every afternoon. When I go outside the clothes rack is being used by my extended family so I find some coat hangers, put my clothes on them and hook them over the wooden pole outside the back door.

My ibu has breakfast in bowls under a plastic fly protector all ready for me: Warm fresh white rice, a warm soup of potatoes, green beans, cassava and tomatoes, a small bowl of left over noodles, shrimp with shells, (I try to eat as many shells as possible for the calcium, I’ve only had milk products twice since I’ve been here… the ice cream and a drink called TSMJ made from milk, egg, honey and ginger.) green onions and mushrooms, a plate of left over fried tempe and chunks of fried chicken (no heads or feet or guts) and another bowl of leftover soup made from cassava leaves, carrots, chicken, onions and garlic. All the left over food is at room temperature, kept in a 5 foot tall cabinet in the kitchen to protect it from bugs until we eat it at the next meal.

When I finish eating I squat at the dishes washing place and rinse the few left over grains of rice into a strainer of biodegradable food. (I think this is given to the chickens and pigeons that live in our backyard, but I really don’t know. There is rooster kept under a basket and some chickens. People have explained me that the chickens come back home each night. I guess it makes sense, dogs and cats know where they live, so I guess chickens would too. I just never thought about it. These chickens are free roaming all over the village and I sure can’t tell which belongs where.) I use the soapy cloth to wash the bowl and spoon and rinse them by turning the handle on the 18 inch faucet that comes out of the wall. Then I put the wet bowl and spoon in the rack where they will drip dry and be ready for use the next time we eat. The dish towel hanging on the peg is not used to dry the dishes. It’s a hand towel that has been there for a long time. I used it a few times to dry my hands but I think it’s a lot safer to just air dry them.

Now I am waiting for Maggie’s sister to come and pick me up in the car with the other 4 Americans who live in my village. We will go to a cultural “dance” in Batu. The teenager in my extended family told me last night that the men wear masks and blankets and that the men dance while the spirit of the animals comes into them and that she used to be very afraid of these dances. So I’m going to study some Bahasa while I wait. I need to learn the words for drive and cook. I’ve pantomimed these words way too many times!

Oh boy, now I just got a text that the Peace Corps is going to meet the mayor of Batu! Closed toe shoes are a must. I have ironed my batik (local beautiful material) blouse and skirt and prepared a little speech in case someone has to speak. I can say, I am the most old, but I am not the leader. The last time I used this line with the principal of the high school, he laughed, so I hope I can get it to come out good again. Being the first PC group in Indonesia has some interesting aspects. It’s hard to keep track of all the official people we have met and I know we are getting mega special treatment from our host partner University. And now we are not tourists at a wonderful East Java event, we are honored guests and must act accordingly. It’s impossible to blend in, so we become the representatives of America.

6 Hours later:

Oh my gosh. There is absolutely no way to explain this
Festival of the Bulls,trance dance event that I just saw. Nine of us Peace Corps volunteers were there and ushered into the covered viewing area with chairs. I sat next to the wife of the Mayor of Batu. She explained to me that the people who wear the bull costumes are “drunk.” This is a famous event that happens once a year in Batu. Different groups of men were dressed as bulls and tigers and monkeys. They appeared to be eating some kind of flowers and were smelling incense that was burning. Once under the influence they pawed the ground and strutted and charged the audience with real bull horns. Two men were in each costume and usually there were ropes tied to the bull head and two additional men were the bull’s handlers. The bulls were eating incense and grass and charcoal and I also think they were eating glass – their lips and tongues were red. One man had a can of gasoline which he poured into his mouth and then spit into flames of fire 10 feet high. There were maybe 20 or so children 10 – 15 years old (I can only guess at their age) who also were under the influence of the drug and the spirit of the bulls. When one of the participants was overwhelmed with the intensity of the event an older man would come and cup his ear and yell something into it or clasp the persons head in his hands and often this would cause the person to go into a kind of sleep like state and other people would carry him off and put him in the back of a truck. There were perhaps 200 hundred people who took the parts of the bull and the other animals. About 30 different villages or groups participated with costumes and music. I saw one woman who was also a participant. At one point, one of the tigers jumped up onto the stage and the mayor’s wife quickly sprang away as the policemen grabbed the person and put him back on the ground. The mayor’s wife was genuinely worried. And so was I! I was interviewed for TV cameras and gave a little speech. The word “culture” was used many times by the people who were speaking as each group came and did their “trance performance” in front of the stage. It was like a 4th of July parade but wildly unpredictable and dangerous. Some of the “performers” had sharp knives that they danced with and long bull whips that they cracked to make the bulls mad. Some of the men were whipping each other with the whips and had large welts forming on their backs. And about a half hour into this 3 hour parade, the downpour started and didn’t quit. The people under the influence of the spirits didn’t seem to notice.

Now I back at home and trying to digest all this information. This Muslim country is full of a flavor I am only beginning to identify. Its taste is spicy and crazy and reserved and formal and exotic all at the same time. In the book we were sent prior to leaving it described "cultural adjustment" as "predicting the behavior of host country nationals, accepting host country behavior and changing your own behavior." I think tomorrow we we have a lively discussion with our language and cultural trainer about what happened today.

In the evening I got a text from some of my other Peace Corps friends and turned on the TV and got to watch myself! PS It still surprises me that that woman with my face looks so old.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

message from a PCV in Tonga

I received this message from a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga:

Hello my fellow Peace Corp Volunteer. I hope this message finds you well. My name is Farfum Ladroma and I am an education volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. I am writing to you all today because I need your help! My students and I at GPS MATAMAKA (an outer-island Government Primary School in Vava’u) are pursuing a “POSTCARD PROJECT.” I am asking for other PCVs outside of Tonga to please send us a postcard from your host country. We are trying to collect as many postcards from around the world, especially in countries where Peace Corps is currently operating. This project will help enhance my student’s understanding of other cultures and share what Peace Corps volunteers do all across the globe. I will keep a running list of all the postcards received with their origin on my blog at: You may check if your postcard successfully makes it to Tonga. This will be a great cultural exchange for everyone involved and a lot of fun. Please help out if you can and tell everyone you know (even your friends and families back home)! I would greatly appreciate your participation. Thank you very much and malo ‘aupito mei Tonga.
Please send postcards to:
c/o Peace Corps
P.O. Box 136
Neiafu, VAVA’U

-Farfum (aka Feleti)


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Culture article written for my language teacher

Culture article for my language and culture teacher, Teguh:

I am one of the Peace Corps volunteers from America who has come to Indonesia. I am currently studying Bahasa Indonesia and living in a small village near Batu. In 2 months I will receive my assignment and become an English teacher in a rural high school someplace in East Java. There are 19 of us who have made this 27 month commitment to bring peace and understanding to the people of Indonesia and be representative of America. At the same time we are also opening the eyes of American people so they can see through our experiences what Indonesia is all about.

Most of the volunteers are young people from age 22- 25. I am 61, so perhaps my insights are not shared by the others. I also am required to tell you that the contents of this article are my own personal thoughts and do not reflect any position of the US Government or the Peace Corps.

The most surprising thing that I have found is the level of technology here. I didn’t expect most homes to have electricity and I am shocked at the number of sepeda motors. In America I had an HP but I never learned to SMS. That’s something that Dea, the teenager in my Indonesian family has taught me.

I had come prepared to teach Basic English, assuming that most students had little exposure to a foreign language. I had collected approximately 50 childrens books in simple English but I had so many other things that I needed to bring that I left the books behind. My daughter promised to ship them when I reached my permanent location. Now I am thinking that those books are not nearly sophisticated enough. I will ask her to send more advanced material.

The final thing that I would like to discuss is difficult to explain. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be so loved, so cared for and so treasured. From the moment I wake up in the morning and receive the greeting/blessing “Assalam’alaikum” from my host family to the gentle reminder, “Hati, hati.” (Be careful)as I walk out the door to go to school; from the smiles and “Selamat pagi.(Good morning)” And ‘Mau ke mana?(Where are you going?)” of the people in my village to the helpfulness of the boys at the warnet(internet house) when I try to figure out how to turn on the computer and find my files; from the ancient women with wrinkled faces and hands who stroke my nose and press their soft faces against mine and tell me that I’m chantik (beautiful) to the children who hold my hand and touch it to their cheeks. These are the memories that I will cherish. This is the spirit of Indonesia, the seed that has been planted in my heart, the sprout of life that I want to share with all my family and friends in America.

Thank you, people of Indonesia, says sangat bertrima kasih. (I am extreemly grateful.)

Oma Colleen Young

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Swimming with dolphins, eating bees and duck heads

This past weekend all 19 volunteers pooled our $1.75 per day “walk around” allowance and went to a beach on the southern side of Java, south of Malang. (Sendang Biru for those of you with Google Earth) We rented a house overnight, and hired 2 boats to take us across the channel to an island nature reserve with white sand beaches for swimming. Sendang Biru is a small fishing village with brightly colored boats decorated with flags. The houses and the boats are blue and red and green and yellow.

The Peace Corps staff helped to coordinate it. Every time you spend more than 24 hours away from your home, the local authorities have to know about it. Indonesia wants to prevent terrorism and so they keep track of anyone who is outside of their home. We had an official document with the seal of the University of Mohammad in Malang, which is hosting our training group, with 20 of our passport numbers, the visa number, which was hand stamped into each passport, the name of the head of the household where we normally reside and our address with the family in Indonesia. When we arrived there was some confusion because the local government official was told by the 3 drivers of the rental vans that there were only 19 of us. The government official came to see me probably because I was the oldest person and looked like the one in charge and I explained in Indonesian that Mike’s name should not have been on the list because he left and went home to America.

The pooled cost of the renting 3 vans with drivers who spent the night in the vans and waited to take us on the 3 hour trip back home the next day, the cost of the rental house with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and the catered meals at the restaurant next door including one box lunch that we took the island on Sunday was $20 each. The rental boats and small fee – a first we thought it was a bribe, but when I went into the office for renting the boats the second day I could see that it was a guide fee for hiring the man who set up the boat rentals – anyway, that amount was $2 each. This whole weekend mini vacation was $22 each! Well worth it. As volunteers we are given enough money to live on but not enough act like tourists.

On Saturday we went to a white sand beach and were swimming in the ocean when a pod of dolphins swam by. At first we weren’t sure what they were! Fins! As people were quickly swimming into shore I was swimming out to get closer. It was amazing. The dolphins were curious about us, arching out of the ocean to look at us with dark gentle eyes. Any apprehension I had about swimming in the Indian Ocean disappeared.

On Sunday we went a different section of the beach with a long tree branch extending 30 feet out into the water and the other trainees walked out on the branch and dove into the water. The big tree shaded the ocean so we could float near shore in the shade. If I was given an assignment to draw a picture of paradise, this is what it would look like. There was a path going through the jungle into the nature preserve that led to a small lagoon. The water was calm because we were on the land facing side of the island. It was clear and blue and turquoise and green. Some guys found a shell with something in it and brought it to me to hold. The slimy slug like thing left a little path across my hand.

I’m now considered the brave one in the group because at night I picked up the giant cicada like bug that was in the boys sleeping area and showed it to everybody before I let it go outside and because I was the only one who was swimming toward the fins rather than away. I really like my group of PC friends. I don’t have skills or the desire to balance on a slippery tree branch. I’m not at all tempted to share the 10 cold beers that people found in the little store. I wasn’t the first or second person to fall asleep that night but I sure wasn’t in the “stay up all night talking” group either. We all have different life stories. I guess I have more stories because I’ve lived longer, but I fit in. I feel comfortable with my new best friends. Most of us have no idea where life is taking us and that seems perfect.

Okay, just a few other notes. Last week one of the volunteers in my village, Andy, told us that his host family had found a bee hive and had fried up the bees. We all went over to his house for a bee snack. They were really good. Some were more crunchy with wings and eyes and legs and others were more like larva that that been fried up crispy and golden. All of us sampled one each, but because I really liked them, I ate 3. Then we continued over to Scott’s house because his family had prepared duck stewed in a clay pot for lunch. Our host families take turns providing lunch. That duck was delicious including the meat from the head that you just peel away. Andy was just finishing up a several day stomach episode and was hungry. He ate almost one entire duck by himself. My stomach has settled down, at least for now, and I really like Indonesian food.

To my partnership classroom students in San Antonito, New Mexico – do you have any questions? What would you like to know about life here in Indonesia?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

20 minus 1 = 19

20 minus 1 = 19

The only other old person in my group is on his way back to America. I found out last night that Mike was struggling with the language, diarrhea, cultural adjustment and his commitment. He made the decision to leave and is already gone. That leaves 18 young people ages 22-25 and me. (Age 61.) He wasn’t in my village and I last spoke with him for about 30 minutes on Friday when all 20 of us got together for training in gender issues and police protection. But we had a common bond in that our brains were slow and the recent college grads picked up things so much faster.

This is hard. And I do think it’s harder on older people. We come from a place in our lives when we have been competent and a comfortable satisfaction with who we are to a place where we are totally incompetent, watching other people question our ability to adjust and survive. It takes a lot of humility to make mistake after mistake and still keep trying. I can’t tell you how many times I realized that I was handing someone something with my left hand. Or suddenly figured out that the way you eat with your fingers in to push the food into your mouth with your thumb rather than licking it. Sometimes all I can do laugh at my stupidity.

I’m so glad I got a head start on the language. In Salt Lake I was learning the word of the day and then after a while, the phrase of the day. Here we are expected to learn 50 or so new words each day. Okay, I guess they don’t really expect us to learn them all, but by being exposed to so much new stuff, I guess the theory is that we will retain some of it. It’s embarrassing to know that someone has told you the word you need so many times and you just can’t pull it up out of your memory bank.

In the 2 weeks I’ve been in the village, there have only been a few days when I didn’t have diarrhea. Every meal is white rice and a variety of spicy, meaty, fishy, vegetable soup and fried tofu and fried egg. I like the food, especially the leaves of the cassava plant and the whole fried shrimp that you eat head, shells and all but I think it takes a while for American stomachs to adjust.

Today my language class went to a park in Malang. People came up to us and asked if they could stand next to us while their friends took our picture. We are an oddity. Every time I walk in my village people ask me, “Where are you going?” It’s just the polite greeting but they really do want to keep track of where I am going. One day I went in the opposite direction to meet up with my friend, Scott, at his house and in one block 15 different people wanted to know where I was going.

The people of Indonesia are so polite. I ask my ‘mother” and “father” for permission to take a mandi (pour water over myself and get clean) permission to go to school and permission to go to sleep. It’s just how things are done. Our mission here is to be culturally sensitive. If I walk in front of someone I hold out my arm and bend over to indicate that I am asking permission for intruding in their space.

But I have some good friends. My Indonesian family loves me absolutely. They can’t understand most of what I say or do, but my Ibu (mother, a few years younger than I am) smiles from ear to ear when I do manage to make myself clear. She and her daughter where on the porch when I left this morning. My toes have blisters from the closed toe shoes that we have to wear on Tuesdays and Thursdays when we teach in the local high school. On other days we can wear sandals, but it really is a good preparation for how we need to dress every day once we are teachers. So I had put on a dorky pair of socks with my shoes. My skirt didn’t go all the way to the ground so you could see a few inches of skin in between the socks and the skirt. I explained to her in Indonesian that even in America my children say that I don’t understand being fashionable. She got it! One good thing about being old is that I really don’t care if I look strange.

The other Peace Corps trainees are wonderful. When I said I felt sad because I was the only old person left, Maggie said, “Well, I’m the only red head.” And Luckas said, “I’m the only person born in Poland.” And Andy said, “I’m the only boy scout.” There’s something about sharing a common trauma that bonds you together, like people in a life boat, somehow helping them survive makes it easier to have faith that I too will survive.

I’m in. I love teaching the classes during our practice sessions with the students in Malang. I love having the guts to get on the local transport and ask for help. I love the friendliness and hospitality and strangeness of the people of Indonesia. I love what all of this is demanding of me. It’s one thing to do something well and feel good about it and it’s totally even better to mess up and feel good about that too. I surrender. I surrender to the non stop traffic just inches from where I am walking. I surrender to not understanding what people are saying to me. I surrender to sore toes and sweaty armpits and smiles and little children who press my hand to their face. I surrender to tiny guppy eyeballs and tails in the food I’m eating. I surrender to drenching rain. I surrender to prayers that I don’t understand from 4am till evening darkness. I surrender to the Peace Corps medical officer telling us that we probably will all get dengue fever. I surrender to a whole village knowing what is happening in my bowels.

I’m in. Homesickness, missing my grandchildren, wishing I could see their faces on Easter morning. Legs cramping from squatting for so long above the pit toilet. Watching spiders bigger than my hand dangling overhead. Hair and towels that smell musty because they just won’t dry in this humidity. Maybe I’m just stubborn. I’m in. Heaven help me. I’m here and I’m staying.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter in Indonesia

It's Easter. In a Muslin country. Here's what my day has been like:

I woke up at 4:00 to the sound of prayers on the loud speaker: Bis Millah, hero man, hero him. At least that's what I hear. My “sister” a university student taught me how to write the words to the beginning prayer in Arabic script. It's beautiful. I copied it onto the cover of my language notebook.

I woke up at my friend's house in the village 20 minutes away from mine. I had spent the night with Sami so that I could see her in action with her family, she's the top of the class in our 20 person language group. And we were going to get up early in the morning and head out for an adventure.

At 4:00 am it was still dark, but I could see flashes of lightening on the horizon and the dawn came in beautifully. Sami's village is higher up the mountain from mine. From her balcony I could see across the valley to the highest mountain in East Java about 20 miles away. I sat on her balcony and studied Indonesian language until she woke up, then we went downstairs and watched her mother make breakfast while I talked to her grandmother who is 4 years older than I am. Older people are fascinated with me. Sami is already so fluent she understands almost everything her family says. I grasp at getting 1 or 2 words in each sentence. I think they have a little pity on someone so old who is trying so hard, or at least that's what I think. Sami's mother very carefully explained to me in Bahasa that I should keep my dictionary with me and take it out every time I hear a word I don't understand. I want you to imagine landing on the planet Mars and knowing 100 or 200 Martian words and trying to keep up the locals. It's a little daunting.

For breakfast we had rice, left over chicken from last night, deep fried, fried tofu and a soup of leaves from rice stalks. And strawberry flavored aloe vera sweet tea – satisfying and delicious. After breakfast, I took my first mandi of the day – go into the ceramic bathroom, stip and pour ice cold water all over. I hadn't brought a towel and so I dried off with the clean side of my dirty underwear. Note to self: take the little washcloth with you on trips so you can have a clean thing to dry with.

We walked 10 minutes through her village to the public transportation wide spot on the side of the road. A mini-bus came by within 15 minutes and we went into the Batu bus terminal. We got off and went to the traditional market across the street. What a smell! Live chickens, cut up chickens, dead fish of every size from guppies to 8” long, semi-live crabs, kittens for sale as well as vegetables, fruits, glasses, clothes and every nick nack in the world. We walked around for awhile and Sami amazed all the locals with her great Indonesian.

Then we got another mini bus and headed up the the mountain toward Pujon. At Pujon we get out and begin what we had been told was a 1 hour hike to a beautiful waterfall. There are 50 million motor cycles in Indonesia and 200 million people. Most people ride 2 or 3 or 4 people to one motorcycle. The motorcycle guys kept trying to get up to hire them to take us up the mountain. We are absolutely forbidden to ride one and have been told that if we even sit on one to get our picture taken we will be sent back to the United States. In the 75 countries all over the world where Peace Corps operates that number one cause of death to PC volunteers is traffic accidents. There are no side walks so people don't think it's safe to walk, but walking is the activity of choice for Peace Corps volunteers.

It takes Sami and I and hour and a half to walk to the waterfall. On the way we see 2 elephants chained by their legs in a small cage. The elephant caretaker opens the gate and we go in to take photos. I stand next to the elephant and she puts her trunk in my hand. It's actually really sad to be next to such a beautiful animal that is unable to move around. The male elephant can move about 6 inches each direction and is intent on touching the female. He can't quite reach her. I give some green bamboo shoots to the elephants.

At the top of the mountain is a wonderful refreshing waterfall that cascades about 100 feet off the top of a mountain. We stood in the spray and got semi soaked. There are about 100 local people and Sami and I on the path for the last 5 minutes. Everyone else had driven up on motorcycles or a few had their personal cars. Several groups of friends asked if they could take my picture with all of them standing next to me and the waterfall in the background. Next to the parking lot we ate fried yummy things and boiled peanuts. Above our heads was troop of wild monkeys. An 8 inch tall baby monkey was exploring the tree branch. The mother monkey kept grabbing the baby and pulling her back to her chest.

Sami and I walk for another hour and a half back down the mountain sharing stories from our lives. We catch a mini bus back to Batu and then another bus to her village. She gets off and I go on down to my village and thought I'd stop at the internet place.

I am sitting on the floor with a little 18 inch high table in front of me, my back is on the wall and I am inhaling cigarette smoke and sweat is dripping off my face as I write this.

I love you guys. This weekend was hard. I started missing my grandchildren and thinking about all the fun Easter mornings I have had during my life. All I can say is that I am building a treasury of stories to share and some of them are sad and hard, but I wouldn't change my life for anything! I love you and miss you. I can hear the thunder. I better get this posted before the power goes out.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Village

My village

I have been taught how to say: I live in the small area, named…, larger area, named…, the district named…, large district of Batu, East Java, Indonesia. For security reasons we are not allowed to list our actual locations in blogs. But in Indonesia it is really important to know all these things. The local R W is head of about 10 families. He is responsible for knowing every time someone extra spends the night. He needed my official name, birthday, passport number and place of birth before I actually arrived. He reports to the person above him, who reports to the person above him and so forth. My host father (bapak) explained to me that at 9:00 pm I must close my window. Just before that time he carefully locks the gate to our little compound. Inside the gated area are our house and 2 other house that belong to the grown daughters of my family and the little shop on the street that belongs to one of the daughters.

One of the daughters is a tourist official in Batu. She wears a uniform and mostly helps Indonesian tourists who come to this area because it is quite mountainous and “cool” (the locals think) and there are lots of conference centers in Batu. She has a husband and 2 children. Dea is a 17 year old who goes to high school and an older daughter goes to the same University in Malang where our training sessions are held. Many days one or the other come over and practice English / Indonesian words with me.

The other family in the compound is a mother who runs the little shop, her husband and the 5 year old naughty little boy. I found out that they have an expression when you ask how old someone is: “Six, this year,” means that he is 5. The shop is about 10 feet by 10 feet, has a roof and is open on all sides. There are packets of instant coffee packaged in tear apart individual packages hanging from the roof. She sells a little bit of everything.

In language and culture class I asked about this practice of having an honored child and the teacher said, oh yes, he was the favorite in his family. This 5 year old boy rides a bicycle through the house, and people just make the hand gesture for go outside, but don’t enforce it. He grabs the remote and turns the channel while people are watching and the teenage granddaughter yells at him, but no one takes the remote away. He comes into the kitchen and takes raw food while my ibu is cooking, spits it out and she shakes her head, stops what she is doing, cleans up after him and goes back to cooking. His teeth are brown and rotten. He only eats sugar things. I have seen his mother spoon feed him a few bites of rice and vegetables to get him to eat something healthy. Males are the favorite and the first grandson is an honored position. In language class we learn to say our name and then to give our birth order. When ever I show pictures of my kids they want to know who is the oldest, who is the youngest.

It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the place where I go to school each day. My idea of a village was rural, but there are so many people on the island of Java, that the homes are very close together and I would call this a town. All the streets in this village are paved. There is a concrete water ditch along the side of the roads. Several times each day someone invites me in. I nod and smile and say Thank you and Later. That’s the polite way to refuse an invitation. At least that’s what I think I am saying.

The first day I walked, I missed the little path that goes to our classroom and kept walking for another 10 minutes. Then I stopped and asked a man, “Where is the balai desa”, the village office and he said “which village office” and I realized that I had walked into another neighborhood. He told me to go back and I did find the little pathway. I stopped in the shade to wait for the other PC trainees and woman came around the corner and invited me into her warehouse which is open to the street. She was reading a newspaper and my picture was in it! I laughed and took out a little money and motioned that I would like to buy a paper. She took me around the corner to a little shop and a fellow PC trainee and I bought the last 2 Malang newspapers that had our pictures in it. I asked my host country language instructor to translate it and he said that I had talked to the reporters in Indonesian, and the reporter had said that Ibu Colleen could speak Indonesian in a way like when you are eating cake and some of it falls out of your mouth. We all laughed. I also told the reporters what my Ibu had served for breakfast: kosong, cassava leaves and I thought it was very delicious and they reported that as well. When I brought the newspaper home my family was thrilled that my Ibu’s cooking was in the Malang paper saying how good it was. Malang is about 20 minutes away and is the 2nd biggest city in East Java.

The teenager in my extended family also reported that her friends saw the interview on TV. Evidently the reporters randomly picked my village, from among the 4 villages where Peace Corps trainees are stationed and my friends volunteered me to talk to the press, so I am the famous American who gave an interview on her first day in East Java.

We have begun going to a big high school in Malang, the University town and the English teacher in the big city also told me that she saw my interview. At High School we attended several classes and each time when I introduce myself I say, “My name is Colleen Young, nickname, Oma (Grandma.)” And the kids laugh and clap. Many of the other teachers use a shortened version of their name when they introduce themselves, but I guess to have a grandma as a teacher is unusual.

My family does call me Oma. We struggle with communicating, but there is a love here that is so big. I feel like I am some precious treasure that dropped out of the sky. Older village women stroke my cheeks and my nose and tell me that I am beautiful. Our language instructor tells us that all of us have sharp noses and that is what Indonesians think is the best. The older women are my favorites. Their faces are so soft when they press their cheeks against mine. Their eyes sparkle. They want to hold my hand and stroke my arm. Little kids are fascinated with white people, but sometimes afraid to get too close. If they are in a group they will yell Hello, Mister to me or sometimes, how are you. But individually they are shy. I play little games with them to get them to smile.

I had to use the bathroom several times one morning and my family was worried about me being sick and called me at school to make sure I was okay. It’s sweet and touching how much they worry and tell me “Hati, hati” be careful, every time I walk in the neighborhood or go to school.

Actually I really do need to be careful. My house is on a busy street. There are no sidewalks. The cars pass each other going in the wrong direction and motorcycles go where ever they want. There are lots of motorcycles. The principal at the Malang high school told me that most of her students come to school on motorcycles. The little bus costs 20 -30 cents and it’s cheaper to just put gas in your motorcycle. You can see families with 2 adults and 2 children on motorcycles. The mother wraps a scarf around her baby and ties him to her chest. The older children sit up front and put their hands on the handlebars. Women ride side saddle behind their husbands.

On the street maybe ¼ of the women have head coverings. My own host mother only wears it when she goes to the mosque, several times a week. She is so much fun. I get up around 4:00am each day when prayers begin. Often I sit on the front porch and nod to the people who walk by. By 5:00am my mother is up and we go together to buy the food for the day, vegetables and tofu wrapped in little pieces of newspaper. She starts the rice cooking and spends the first 2 hours chopping and cooking. Our house has a little refrigerator, but most of the food is kept in a cabinet. Sometimes we walk to the rice fields. Sunday mornings she and I go to the village office and do calisthenics with the other older women. The music is fun and I’m not the worst one in the class. I stand at the back so I won’t block the view for the other 40 women. The largest woman in the village is the instructor, not any of the slim ones. My ibu is the at the head of the class and I can tell that many of the women respect her. All the women wear pants and t-shirts to class and about ½ of them have the jilbab, head covering on.

This morning my ibu told me that I would need to eat alone because she was going to Batu for a Chi Gung class. At least that’s what I understood. A friend of hers picked her up on her motorcycle. My ibu, my host mother is 58 and her husband, my host father is 66. They call me Oma too.

I kept blowing the fuse in the house every time I put my computer plug into a socket. I learned how to open the electricity meter and throw the only switch the other way. My host father showed me how to unplug the refrigerator first, but now we have figured out that I can plug the computer into the socket above the window and the lights in the house will still work. I think it’s on a circuit that goes to one of the other houses in our compound.

As I am typing this I can hear music in the street. There is a wedding tonight and the music is so loud I couldn’t talk above it. But inside the house, away from the wedding place its fine.

I shower twice a day and I really do need it. The water is cold and I take a deep breath before I pour it over me using the water dipper.

It has rained most days since we have been here, usually passing showers that last for ½ hour or so several times each day. I keep my umbrella with me all the time.

I wash my clothes by hand every 3 or 4 days and hang them outside on a collapsible clothes rack. When I have to go to Malang to the high school I iron my outfit for the day. I explained to my host mother that many people in America do iron their clothes but that I am not one of them. She lets me go to the village looking a little wrinkled but on town days I iron.

The host families of the 5 trainees in my village take turns making us lunch. We walk to the house of the day and eat lunch together. It’s a fun time to learn about the other Peace Corps trainees and our Indonesian language instructor.

I drink sugar sweetened tea many times a day: when I first wake up, at breakfast, during coffee break, at lunch, when I return from school and often at dinner and just before bed. Some of the other volunteers are in “coffee” houses where coffee is served all the time. My ibu drinks tea. The words I use at every meal are: this is delicious and thank you, comma, enough and thank you, comma, later while I am patting my stomach. It’s impolite to say no in any form and especially no, thank you when someone is offering you food. I haven’t figured out a polite way to say I’m stuffed to the gills. My favorite food is whole shrimp dipped in batter and fried. You eat the tails and everything. We eat rice at every meal and ladle soup with vegetables and other stuff on top. The food gets cooked in the morning and we eat it throughout the day. When no one is eating it, it’s covered with a thing that looks like an upside down dish draining pan with holes in it.

My village is on a mountain side. I am half way up a mountain called Kawi and next to a mountain called Panderman. At the top of Kawi there is a special religious site that Indonesians visit at night. I hope it stops raining so I can get permission to go there. My group wants to go camping and the locals in charge have suggested that this would not be appropriate because there would be no one there who could cook our food and no bathroom facilities. You can’t go anywhere without permission. We are working on it.

And the answer for my classroom back in New Mexico is that yes, it is impolite to point your feet at someone but that only applies when you cross your leg when you are sitting. The women in our group were instructed to never cross our legs when we are in public, but we can cross our feet when we are sitting in a chair. It’s totally in bad taste to show the soles of your feet to someone. When we sit on the floor while eating at someone’s house the females are not allowed to cross our legs, we need to keep them together and bend our knees to one side. The first time I sat this way for an hour, my legs had fallen asleep and I wasn’t sure I could stand up.

Okay, that’s enough of all my random thoughts.