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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Only 1 week left at my training village

Only 1 week left at my training village!

Only two more language sessions! Yikes – I’m learning a new language now that I know my village for the next two year. Some of us are learning Javanese and some are learning the language of Madura. The Javanese language has several levels so I am trying to learn the high level that is used with older people (who may not have atteneded school and learned the National Language) and the lower level which is used by young children before they go to kindergarten and primary school. There’s a middle level too, which you use with your friends, but I’m not even trying to learn that.

For example:
English Indonesian Javanese for kids Javanese for elders
Yes ya yo nggih
Thank you terima kasih matur nuwun
What’s your name
Siapa nama anda
Sopo jeneng mu
Sinten asmo panjenengan

Afternoons and evenings are community projects to demonstrate that we know how to learn things about our community and that we know how to facilitate local people learning about their own community.
Friday and Saturday are language finals.
Monday we are evaluated on our acquisition of pre-service training skills and we have to submit our Teaching English as Second Language portfolio, practice the ceremony with the parts we each need to present and have a farewell dinner.
Tuesday we have a health exam/contest and have one half hour on stress / mental health (I’m laughing. You who have been reading my blog know that this something I probably should have learned a long time ago.) Later that day our new principals arrive. We spend Wed. in sessions with them, hopefully learning what they expect of us and sharing with them something about Peace Corps. Thursday we are sworn in as new volunteers and then leave with our principals to spend the next 2 years at our permanent sites.

Today, like most days I was up at 4:00am. At 6:00 my Ibu and Bapak took me to a group calisthenics session in Batu. I love these sessions with the elderly! I fit right in and have a blast! It’s some stretching, some yoga, some vigorous jumping and moving arms and legs and lots of music. Now I have a little time before we go to her sisters house to make small cakes for a wedding. (I think) After 2 months I can pick up on some of what is said, but generally I just smile and go along with whatever seems to be happening. (Oops, it’s now Wednesday. I did the calistenics on Sunday! Time is flying. I better get this posted! I've been involved in massive wedding preparations the last few days: making all kinds of cakes, donuts, sweets and wrapping presents and going to festivities with the other women in my village. My ibu's sister's son is getting married. I found out I can turn cloth into flower shapes by folding it and using rubber bands!)

I’m also learning the Indonesian national anthem! I have to get evaluated on my sample English lesson plan, do a visual presentation on the community service projects I’ve been involved with and finish up my Self-Assessment Portfolio (6 pages - tiny writing) of Pre-Service Training.

So if some of you are wondering, “How come she’s having a hard time?” That’s why! Training is a lot of work! But, the good news is I can see the end of the tunnel. We’ve been told that all this frantic activity will dissolve once we reach our permanent sites.

My favorite activities here have been walking through the villages, meeting the people, and just being a part of a community. I also loved the practice teaching sessions at the local high school. I’ve learned that my brain is old but my spirit is young. Interacting with people brings me the most joy and memorizing data brings me the most stress. I developed enough confidence to know that even if I loose the ability to talk and listen (or partially loose it) I can still get the job done. Communication is lots more than the words you can say or understand. And I’ve made some great friends: the other trainees in my village: Scott, Lukasz, Andy and Maggie have become my absolute support team. And the other trainees: Angela, Bart and Andrea who will be living within a few hours of my site, and Sami, Diana, Noel and Erica who taught school with me, and Troung, Lauren, Matt, Sarah, and Nisha who I think had the closest, craziest village and my good friends, Gio and Travis who always goes out of his way to give me a hug. My teacher Teguh has taught me more than I can ever aknowledge – it’s not just the Indonesian, but the way that people live and why. When he explained that there is a requirement to pray 5 times a day, but that sometimes we hear extra (non required) prayers on the loudspeakers at night, I began to uncover another layer of the deep spirituality here.

The Peace Corps staff has gone above and beyond in a very limited amount of time to get us trained enough to send us out on our own. I wish I could keep Lyn, the medical officer, with me forever. From my perspective we’re two old ladies who have more fun with life than anyone suspects. Betsy, the new programming and training officer, has stepped up to the plate and picked up the pieces of the meal and is making it into a grand feast! From the top to the bottom; Ken, Wawan, Mifta, Joyce, Dewi, Selvia, Ririez, Lyta, Evelyn, Bimo and Jack and Rebecca who will be moving on, and the others I’ve just met a few times, I just want to say thank you to everyone at Peace Corps staff who has supported the 19 of us!
And the people at Univ. Mohammadyia, Eni, Pak Habib and Pak Barto and all of Teguh’s friends at American Corner…

Okay I’m running out of time and I also want to say thank you to my family. My Ibu and Bapak are the best! and Dea and Ayu and little Aldin have helped me out when only a teenager and college student and 5 year old could reach in and understand me when my brain absolutely refused to act like it was 61 years old!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I should be strong

This is a spiritual exercise – this is what I do when I’m trying to find my spiritual connection, when I feel lost in some area of my life. When I’m working through something I don’t try to make it all make sense so if you want sensible – stop reading!

Lately I’ve been using the skills I picked up in some evening group discussions back in Salt Lake City based on “The Work” by Byron Katie, but this way of questioning things is more my own way of questioning my thoughts. I believe that suffering is optional and when I find myself suffering I begin by questioning my thinking.

Is it true that I should be strong? That’s what my brain says but I really don’t know.
How do I feel when I think, “I should be strong?” I feel lousy, incompetent, like a failure. Without that thought “I should be strong,” who would I be? I would just be okay - Just me going through my day sometimes strong, sometimes not, either way, okay.

Okay, I’ll turn the thought around and see if the opposites are just as true or truer: I should be strong. The opposite: I shouldn’t be strong? Could that be true? Let me see: I learn a lot more when I am weak and vulnerable and open. Strong sometimes is a front that prevents the world from really knowing who I am. Allowing myself to be weak is allowing myself to experience the lack of power that many people in the world feel.

Let me try out this thought: It’s important for me to be weak right now. It’s important for me to be vulnerable and hurt and feel pain and feel incompetent. I am learning what lack of power feels like.

Look at the lessons you are getting this week. (I think the answers to questions are usually given to me so I look back through my recent life to see what answers I’ve been given, not just questions. Some of this came from a Peace Corps session on Community Development. We looked at Power: 1. Power over 2. Power to 3. Power with 4. Power within.)

When I have no power over my situation – it looks attractive to have the power to do something, to make a change in the external circumstances. Power with a group – I want to share my powerlessness and somehow that will make me more powerful. Creating consensus or having friends really doesn’t give me real power. It feels good and it feels like I am doing something to regain power and it only works temporarily.
Ultimately the power comes from within.

Low power – access to services that can benefit me but not directly involved in the decision making.
Medium power – access to decision making process that is designed by others.
High power – local ability to initiate action, activity benefits the community, shared leadership.

Peace Corps Training is a low power situation. Everything is designed to benefit us, but we have no real choices about where we live, what we do, what we eat, who our friends are, what we must learn, how we will be taught, what we will wear, how we will behave.

It’s temporary. Just a little under 3 months. And it’s preparing us for what we absolutely need. In 2 weeks we will be at our permanent sites, using all the skills we are acquiring right now. We are being trained to live in communities on our own, far from other Americans or the Peace Corps support staff, trained to be English teachers, trained to speak the language and be sensitive to the cultural differences here in Indonesia, trained for the time when many more choices will be ours. So it’s frustrating, intense and overwhelming. It’s also a time to discover a deep reservoir of personal power.

Some power I can have when I am not externally strong and powerful:
The power of acceptance
The power of joy
The power of commitment

So even if a boss gently chews me out and tells me that unless I correct a cultural adjustment it’s possible I will be sent home. So even if I find it difficult to wear the correct attire with the heat. Even if I can’t communicate well. Even if I don’t like the competition aspect of training. Even if so much of what is said goes over my head. Even if I am hot and sweaty and I can’t sleep with all the neighborhood weddings and whatever else is going on with the loud speakers at 2am.

I still have me. And the core of who I am is pretty good. I’m trying, even if I screw up. And I’m trying hard.

Maybe Maggie, Andy, Lukasz and Scott are right. Maybe I am too hard on myself.

Is this Peace Corps training harder than having a baby on dirt floor and feeding the kids with food stamps and living day to day with no electricity or running water?

Is it harder than getting divorced and leaving the place I love and all my dreams behind?

Is it harder than raising my children and discovering that I can’t keep all the pain of life out of their lives?

No, it’s not.

Maybe I’m not strong. Okay, I know I’m not strong. I’m going through this period in my life when I’m not strong on the outside. It’s okay. There’s a well of strength on the inside. I just need to be patient and let it express itself when it’s ready.

If who I am is more than just this bag of skin and bones and thoughts and feelings then I don’t need to be so attached to this particular situation. I am willing to let life use me for its own purpose.

Wow - I’m curious about what that will be!
(And that’s when I stop, when I feel that genuine shift inside. And often for me it shows up with a giggle or a smile:)

I apologize if this spiritual ramble is crazy, offensive or doesn’t represent Peace Corps or its personnel or the people of Indonesia in a good light. I’m attempting to make public the internal dialog that one American woman is having as she walks her Peace Corps path in Indonesia. Peace Corps sent me here to do 3 things: 1) Teach English with a counterpart, so that my skills will be left behind 2) Let the people of Indonesia (and maybe the world through this blog) understand what America and Americans are like and 3) Promote a better understanding of Indonesia on the part of my friends and family back home. That’s the reason I started this blog. I also have a hidden 4th reason for writing this: I hope that someone reading it will think “If she did it, I can do it too,” and will join Peace Corps and the legacy that my daughter gave me when she shared her Peace Corps trails and triumphs will be passed on to someone else through me. Thank you for walking through the chaos and self-discovery with me.

I’m not the perfect representative of America. I’m just a 61 year old grandma who came over here to make a tiny difference in the world. My spiritual thoughts don’t represent any religion or philosophy. I have own crazy way of being me. (Don’t we all.)

I promise I will tell you about all the delightful, enchanting things, the children and men and women and the butterflies and little lizards that make me smile! This really is a marvelous adventure! If I could let you look through my eyes for one day you really would feel something wonderful inside your heart. The word for kiss is the same as the word for smell. I can’t figure out if Indonesia is kissing me or I’m just inhaling deeply!

Love, Colleen

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Letter to President Obama

May 15, 2010
Dear Mr. President:
Selamat pagi! We, the 19 Peace Corps trainees in Indonesia, would like to sincerely thank you for the
privilege afforded us to serve in the beautiful country of Indonesia. Due largely to your administration’s
efforts, we are the first group from the Peace Corps in nearly 45 years to be hosted by the Indonesian
people. We arrived in Jakarta on March 18, but unfortunately, missed the opportunity of meeting you.
However, we, along with the rest of Indonesia, are excited that you are coming in June to revisit the land of
your childhood! Everywhere we go, we meet Indonesians who are proud to claim you as one of their own
because of the years you spent in SDN Menteng 01.
We would like to extend to you, Mrs. Obama, Sasha, and Malia, a personal invitation to our swearing in
ceremony, which will be held on June 3. Not only would we be honored by your presence, it would also
be a once in a lifetime opportunity to solidify ties between the United States and Indonesia through
extraordinary circumstances.
We have spent these past two months training near Malang, in East Java, in preparation for our twoyear
assignments as English teachers. We have all fallen in love with this country! Each of us is staying
with host families to learn Bahasa Indonesia, the culture, and education system. We have just completed
practicum sessions at local senior high schools, and are currently planning our community projects, some
of which include painting wall murals, helping underprivileged children, and renovating houses.
It is common knowledge here that you are particularly fond of bakso and sate. In Pandanrejo, one of
the villages which houses four of us, there is a street food vendor who handles his makeshift operation
off his motorcycle. He calls his store “Bakso Obama,” and loves it when we call him by “Obama.” In our
opinion, his bakso is the best in Indonesia. We would love to host our very own Bakso Summit with you
and the first family as our guests, where we will be able to tell you about all the exciting things we have
experienced, and what we hope to achieve during our time here.
We eagerly await your reply!
Peace Corps Indonesia 1
Travis Bluemling
Giovanna Bocanegra
Angela Boey
Lauren Ebersole
Diana Klein
Matt Laszlo
Maggie Lautzenheiser-Page
Scott Lea
Samantha Martin
Andy Makepeace
Luke Milewski
Truong Nguyen
Andrea Norris
Noel Schroeder
Sarah Sheffield
Nisha Skariah
Bart Thanhauser
Erika Wade
Colleen Young Peace Corps Indonesia after a Javanese make-over
Trainees Travis Bluemling and Giovanna Bocanegra teaching high
school in Junrejo
Peace Corps Indonesia at
Borobudur Temple
Obama Statue at SDN Menteng 01, Jakarta Bakso Obama, Pandanrejo

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Answers to Student Questions

My partner school in the US is a gifted 4th and 5th grade classroom in San Antonito, New Mexico. Here are the questions that they sent me:

1. Do you feel odd eating food like bee and duck?
At first it's a little strange to eat something that you know is different. The bees were crunchy like potato chips on the outside and soft and gooey like toothpaste on the inside (the larva part) but once I started to think about it as food, it was easy to eat. My PC friends didn't think so and only ate one to be polite, but I really liked it. The duck had been cooked all day in a clay pot in it's own juicy soup. It tasted a lot like chicken and only when I was eating the meat from the head did I really even think about it being a duck.

2. Is duck a traditional food?
All meat is very expensive here. Because we are American and the families that we live with have been given extra money to feed us, we are given lots of meat. Some of our families are more wealthy than others, but I think that if we were not here, they would be eating a lot more tofu and a lot less meat. When there is beef or duck or chicken or shrimp, or fish, my family always wants me to take the first portion. They are just so loving and generous. Muslims are not allowed to eat dogs or bats, but in non-Muslim areas people eat whatever meat they can get so their bodies will have the protein. When the Japanese invaded Indonesia people had to sell their rice to Japan and mostly eat cassava and there was not enough food and many people died.

How do you carry a baby with one right hand?
I had explained to the class that the "right" hand is clean and the left hand is unclean. Mothers and older children carry the babies in a sling around their neck and back with the baby in the front. People sometimes use their left hand when they have to, but they say "sorry." If for example, you are handing out papers to the class, the teachers always carry the papers in their left hand so they can pass it with their right hand. Often I see children walking hand in hand on the street to school, but because they are side by side, one is using her right hand and the other her left. Once a baby is about a year old, the parents will set it down on the floor, but until that time, babies are always carried and at night they sleep in the bed with their mother. I asked my teacher when he started sleeping in a bed on his own and he said that he started when he was 7 years old.

Do you like it there?
Yes I do. I love it here. It feels like a wonderful adventure. But there are some days when all I want to do is close my eyes and pretend that I am still in America and everything makes sense and I can walk to the frig and get a diet coke and turn on the TV and understand the news and read a sign and know what it means. Part of gaining wisdom is having the courage to experience the hardship. Often it feels like I'm in the hardship phase, but I get little glimpses of peace and security and insight that make it all worthwhile.

Why do you think the 5 year old boy eats only sugary things?
Because his parents let him! I think maybe all kids love to eat junk food and unless someone makes them eat vegetables, or gives them some choices, they would just eat candy all day. I have seen him eat a spoonful or rice or vegetables when someone puts it in his mouth and then the grandparents stick a little piece of meat in while he is chewing the rice, so he does get some nutrition. Maybe you could do an experiment and ask the kids at your school: What do you like best - candy or apples? cake or carrots? chips or celery? What do you predict will be the favorite food?

What do you do that makes your body need to take a shower twice a day?
I love this question! At first, I thought the same thing. Why do we have to take a mandi twice a day? (Actually, it's kind of like a shower, but not really. You stand on a tiled floor and scoop water out of a bin with a plastic dipper about 6 inches across and pour it all over you.) It seemed like a waste of time and water. Now, I love it. It's so hot and sweaty here. Even at night, laying in bed the sweat is often dripping off of me and I love to just cool down. Sometimes I really am dirty and use the soap too, but often I just pour the water over me and feel the delightful cool feeling. I don't think any building in my village has air conditioning and pouring water over yourself is the only way to cool off. Electricity is expensive and water is cheap, because it rains every day.

Why do you want to teach Basic English?
I just want to teach whatever level of English the students can learn. Some Indonesian students are very smart and some are actually reading this blog! In English! However, some students are more like me. They know a few words and phrases in English (like I know in Indonesian) and they can put together a sentence so that you know the idea, but it doesn't really sound right. My heart goes out to them. Learning a new language is very hard and I want to help them in any way I can.

Why do you get diarrhea almost every day at your village?
I did at the beginning because my body wasn't used to the different food and the heat and the lack of sleep and being tired a lot and all the shots that we had to take to keep from getting Malaria and Dengue Fever and other things. By the way, I looked at what our medical officer said and last year 1/3 of the PC volunteers in Cambodia, the country close to Indonesia, got Dengue Fever and many of them needed to be med-evaced out. So it's important to take all the precautions and actually the diarrhea wasn't so bad and now it has stopped.

Why did you want to join the Peace Corps and come to Indonesia?
I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted the world to be better in some small way because I lived here. I thought maybe all my life experience could benefit someone who hadn't had the opportunities I have had. I didn't pick Indonesia. I said I would go anywhere Peace Corps wanted. Indonesia asked for English Teachers and Peace Corps thought I could teach English, so I said, "Sure, I'll do it." I hope that by being here, people in Indonesia will see that Americans are just people like them, not rich movie stars, just people who try to do good things and sometimes get frustrated and still keep trying. Maybe if everyone does just a little bit the world can become a better place. What do you think?