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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.

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